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George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Cello Sonata in C major, op. 26 N° 2 (1935) [34.20]
Nocturne and Saltarello for cello and piano (c.1897) [6.42]
Cello Sonata in F minor, op. 26 N° 1 (1898) [28.45]
Viviane Spanoghe (cello)
André de Groote (piano)
Recording dates and locations not supplied. DDD.
TALENT DOM 2910 79 [70.05]


This CD has been in my collection for some time. The accounts it offers of Enescu’s two cello sonatas show commitment to and much enthusiasm for the music. If one were to go by opus numbers alone one might think the two sonatas had been composed in close proximity – not so. Enescu more than once paired works of the same type under the same opus number, even if their composition was separated by many years. Unusually, this disc presents the second sonata as the first to be heard.

This release is notable for offering the world premiere recording of the Nocturne and Saltarello, a short work, known to have been performed during the first recital of Enescu’s compositions in Paris during 1897. The score was long thought lost, but it came to light again in 1994. Such was the energy of Enescu’s creative mind that his many shorter chamber compositions carry as much to engage both performer and listener alike that they are worthy of wider attention than they often receive. This Nocturne and Saltarello definitely belongs in that category, along with a clutch of other works featuring solo violin, a Concert Allegro for harp and Cantabile e Presto for flute and piano (both 1904), Légende for trumpet and piano (1905) and the Concert Piece for viola and piano (1906).

Listening to the Nocturne you can hear some of Enescu’s mature musical approaches in the early stages of their development. Richly lyrical, this is music that has distinct influences left by the French compositional school – he studied under Massenet and knew Fauré, Ravel amongst others – yet a youthful love of Brahms also seems not too distant from his mind. The Saltarello is made to contrast well in the playing of de Groote and Spanoghe: they pick up the tempo and invest it with much bite and attack. Although folk elements may be evident in the writing, they are of Enescu’s making rather than from authentic sources, and he utilizes them with a deftly cultured touch.

The first sonata’s opening movement – marked allegro molto moderato – is a mixture of unison playing and closely argued chorale and fugal writing that betray yet again a combination of French and Brahmsian influences. The players bring out the drive behind the music - derived from a repeated three-note sequence (F-G-A flat) - to good effect, and further succeed in contrasting this with more introspective passages that also are founded on the same material. The allegretto scherzando second movement is full of inner musical flow between the instruments. Memories of a Viennese scherzo from Enescu’s years at the Conservatoire obviously pervade the music, and the major-minor harmonics are most delicately handled. Likewise Brahmsian in character, the feeling continues into the third movement. The ruminative quality of the music is evident in Spanoghe’s deep, rich cello tone; for the most part de Groote holds the piano part under a veil of restraint. The work’s presto finale is largely classical in form, with the instruments playing against each other in a manner that appropriately draws upon elements from the preceding movements and builds to a formidably energetic conclusion. A strength of this performance is that the music is performed at a genuine presto tempo whilst finding inner space for reflective elements as a seamless part of the whole.

The second sonata, written 37 years after the first, works along a very different basis of structure and enquiry, as its concerns are less to do with form than with variation of tonal colour. Indeed, the structure only begins to come clear some way in, such is the inventiveness with which Enescu treats mood as a thematic device. The first movement’s internal contrasts are broadly painted with boldness of line and feeling for nuance; Spanoghe often observing the minute differences in tonal shading that Enescu requires. De Groote is hardly less subtle in his handling of the piano part. The second movement is suitably agitato, following the marked indication, but it evolves through long lines with emotion held in restraint to balance passages of more effusive character.

The third and fourth movements come as close as Enescu’s third violin sonata to expressing his feeling for Romanian folk music, even though the melodies he employs are his own. The third movement clearly carries the atmosphere of a doina in it; a doina being a melancholic melody with roots in both speech and song. Enescu transforms this into a passage of high art. The final movement, marked à la roumaine – allegro sciolto, relies on both Lydian and pentatonic melodies. It incorporates glissandi and quarter-tones in the cello part, whilst the piano is asked to play ‘rustico’ to imitate the sound of a Romanian ţambal. As was noted with the earlier works Enescu’s romantic leanings are also on display, but here they are firmly within his own musical language. Spanoghe and de Groote might not approach the music with as much instinct as some – Ilea and Licoreţ on Olympia/Electrecord or Aneculaesei (see review link below) – but they are respectful of Enescu’s many demands and seek to get inside his idiom with some success.

The sound is full and forward, though not too much so. The liner notes are generally informative, but Fauré is called a "younger musician", which is clearly inaccurate.

This is a disc that contains persuasive accounts of all three works and shows much dedication to Enescu’s music. Were I after a single recording of the sonatas for my library any already mentioned would give pleasure. Cello sonatas these might be, but it is unwise to neglect the piano’s contribution to the whole. The sheer variety of tone that Donald Sulzen’s instrument brings to Arte Nova’s budget price release would make it my first choice, despite de Groote’s highly nuanced sense of touch on this Talent disc.

Evan Dickerson

Review of another CD featuring Enescu’s cello sonatas:


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