String Quartets nos 1 and 2
Quatuor Ad Libitum
Recordings made in May 1999
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
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