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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


RECORD OF THE MONTH


George ENESCU (1881-1955)
String Octet, Op.7 (1900)
Piano Quintet, Op. 29 (1940]
Kremerata Baltica with Andrius Zlabys (piano)
Gidon Kremer
Recorded at the Angelica-Kauffman Saal, Schwarzenberg, Austria, June 2000 (Octet),
and at the Probesaal der Philharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Ludwigshafen, Germany,
November 2001 (Quintet)
NONESUCH 7559-79682-2 [73.11]


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"The greatest musical phenomenon since Mozart" is how his concert partner Pablo Casals famously described Enescu. Those who knew him certainly speak with awe about his prodigious capabilities, and record companies such as Marco Polo, Olympia and EMI are paying his music some serious attention. The two works on this disc give us a chance to hear two sides of the coin – a fairly oft-recorded early masterpiece which signalled a precocious talent, and a much later, far more enigmatic piece that was coolly received and appeared to be a stylistic mish-mash, but which deserves re-appraisal.

The Octet in C, written when the composer was 19, is an amazingly accomplished piece for a teenager (certainly comparable to Mendelssohn’s Octet), and is well represented in the current catalogue. However, this being Gidon Kremer and his punningly titled ensemble, something had to be different. It appears that a colleague, Leonid Desyatnikov, suggested the group expand the Octet’s original scoring to create a fuller, more ‘orchestral’ texture, and this is the version recorded here. It is something akin to what Schoenberg did with Verklärte Nacht, and Kremer’s group make a strong case for their approach. The extremely muscular, contrapuntal lines and effortless flow of melody are already very effective in original octet form, in fact sounding sonorous and very rich in the right performance, so I suppose what Kremer is doing is giving us more of the same. The result is undeniably effective. The work’s broad opening theme, a glorious inspiration over throbbing unisons in the bass, emerges as even more lush and romantic here, and at times sounds curiously like Tippett. The development of the main theme, which is the backbone of the whole piece in one way or another, is extremely inventive, and as the counterpoint thickens and the theme’s treatment becomes ever more angular and complex, one cannot help thinking of Schoenberg’s almost contemporary work. There is passion, excitement, luminosity and a real individuality in every movement, and all conceived on an epic scale. Kremer and his players respond throughout with playing of great commitment, polish and flair.

The Piano Quintet, composed 40 years later, is something of a curiosity. The booklet claims ‘first recording’, and I certainly cannot trace a rival in the catalogue. It is referred to as "a distant relative of both late Scriabin and mature Ravel", and there is a certain heady, almost ‘perfumed’ quality that does seem to hark back to a past generation of late Romantics. Themes are treated in a languorous, improvisatory way that must have seemed terribly old-fashioned at the time, but one can trace a rhapsodic style of writing that comes quite clearly from the same pen as the Octet. Atonality hovers on the fringes, but never takes hold, and the restlessness of much of the writing seems to mirror a hidden sorrow (Enescu’s response to the war?) as well as a more positive emotional passion (particularly the finale) that is ultimately uplifting. Here again, Kremer leads a small group whose playing uncovers every complex strand with unerring precision and fervour, and they are helped enormously by the big-boned yet sensitive contribution of the Lithuanian-born pianist Andrius Zlabys. This mysteriously multi-dimensional piece is well worth getting to know.

Recording quality is demonstration worthy. There is a rather convoluted booklet note entitled The Forgotten Legacy of George Enescu by Julia Bederova that almost disappears up its own prose, but does contain useful snippets for the more curious reader to follow up. A stimulating release, and highly recommended.

Tony Haywood


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