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String Quartets nos 1 and 2

Quatuor Ad Libitum
Recordings made in May 1999
Naxos 8.554721 [73:30]

Long neglected outside his native land (except for his two Romanian Rhapsodies), the music of George Enescu (1881-1955), Romania's greatest composer, has recently received growing attention. Despite his busy career as violinist and conductor, he found time to compose five symphonies and a fair amount of chamber music, of which these two quartets - completed in 1920 and 1951 - may be taken as fully representative. They are played here by the Quatuor Ad Libitum, a body founded in 1988 at the George Enescu Academy of Arts, which has achieved considerable distinction in its relatively short life.

The first quartet is very long and the leisurely unfolding of the musical argument in the first two movements does not consistently hold one's attention. The third movement, however, contains some wonderfully inventive writing and the finale is even more striking - its sumptuous chorale-like coda the vehicle for a remarkable display of double-stopping.

Inspiration is again somewhat variable in the much shorter second quartet. The slow movement contains a haunting sequence for muted upper strings accompanied by a quasi-percussive cello pizzicato, and the quirky scherzo which follows is equally attractive.

As a virtuoso violinist himself, Enescu makes severe technical demands on the players, to which they rise with commendable commitment and skill, though occasionally intonation is less than perfect. The recorded sound is natural and well-focused.

Adrian Smith



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