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George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Violin Sonata No. 3 "dans le caractère populaire Roumain", Op. 25 (1926) [28.15]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Sonata for violin and piano in A minor, D.385, op.posth. 137, No. 2 (1816) [23.18]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)

Phantasy for violin with piano accompaniment, op.47 (1949) [10.00]
Hans Werner HENZE (b. 1926)

Fünf nachtstücke für Violine und Klavier (1990) [9.20]
Barbara Doll (violin)
Cristina Marton (piano)
rec. May 2005, Martinů Hall, Lichtenstein Palace, Prague. DDD.
ARCODIVA UP 0083-2 131 [71.16]

Thankfully George Enescu’s music is no longer as rarely performed or recorded as Barbara Doll’s accompanying programme note might make you believe. There are at least seven other recordings of the third violin sonata on my CD shelf, each with its own distinct claim to attention. From Enescu’s own with Lipatti – of historic interest – via Menuhin and Haendel (Enescu’s pupils) to current Romanian violinists Martin, Sirbu and Lupu or the alternative view presented by Kavakos, one might think that most interpretive angles were covered. This current version by Doll and Marton proves how wrong that assumption can be. Little could have prepared me for it.

The one outward clue is in the overall time taken. At 28’15" it is the most expansive view around, with the others coming in at anything between 22 and 25 minutes. The opening of the first movement (moderato malinconico) appears rather coolly conceived – in fact I’d go so far as to say detached from the music, its impetus and essence. The emphases of dynamic and bowing techniques that violinists usually fling themselves into with abandon are somewhat underplayed compared to the norm. But then there are times too when the music springs to life, and often this happens without the slightest warning. Hear the second movement again at around 5’18" where across the course of not more than two bow strokes all hell is seemingly unleashed in the two instruments.

At times like that I wrote in my listening notes, "should I like this?" If I were honest to the spirit of Enescu, my reaction would be "probably not", but of itself this unique view has momentary things to commend it. It is well known that when Menuhin studied with Enescu in Romania he fell - by his own admission - perhaps too strongly under the influence of the gypsy fiddlers around Sinaia, which is why Enescu packed him off for the corrective influence of Adolf Busch. If anything is misplaced in this performance it is that it remains too artful rather than submitting to the true caractère populaire Roumain: the bowing and tone is at all times a little too studied and contemplated where it should be instinctual. I would have thought being a pianist of Romanian birth Cristina Marton might have brought stronger feelings to show against Barbara Doll’s approach.

The third movement too left me with the feeling of a performance more aware of itself – little things: edgy tone produced too cleanly and the music at times taken too much in bite size chunks rather than a unified whole. When it comes alive (c. 6’21") the results can be gripping – and not for the first time though I wondered as to the amount of engineering manipulation taking place behind the scenes to give the piano bass presence that seemed a touch lacking moments before.

However, it’s not only the Enescu that is individual here: the rest of the programme presents three other approaches to the violin and piano duet that amply reflect their composers’ concerns. The Schubert is altogether more natural and the performance shows qualities that were lacking at times in the Enescu. It is lithe and beautifully shaped and affords both players opportunities to show what they can produce when not under the pressure of having to realise effects for their own sake. The work has a flow all of its own and in this element of the performance Cristina Marton emerges as a rather sensitive accompanist.

The Schoenberg is an altogether edgier affair, with the violin definitely taking the lead and exhibiting a palpable hardness of tone. But it’s not that the piano part - composed shortly after the violin one - is shy in coming forward either. Throughout their performance Doll and Marton allow Schoenberg’s Viennese side to show itself within his twelve-tone frame, with glimpses of the waltz and Schubert - perhaps less distinctly - but this is the only discernable link between the composers included here.

Henze is in most senses worlds away from Enescu, but in one crucial sense their two works here share a kindred interest in the evocation of the night, albeit I sense Enescu’s is more fleeting. Henze’s self-professed aim is to "satisfy the human longing for peace, calm and harmony, or at least to understand it". This work, whilst not especially outwardly calming, does arrive at a moment that might be described as ‘resolution’. Here I don’t mean to imply the harmonic sense though this does have a bearing upon the work’s searching character. "Moods, atmospheres, conditions", Henze too quotes among his concerns and throughout the short span of the five movements he brings to bear his own journey through personal and political upheavals.

Unsurprisingly the work and performance end this disc with more of a question mark than any more definite punctuation. And the question is what’s the question? That’s for the listener to decide depending on their reaction, not only to Henze’s work, but the disc as a whole: a varied programme given through provocative playing. Recommended most strongly if provocation is what you’re after, though those seeking authentic Enescu as their first encounter should look at alternative versions.

Evan Dickerson

 

 



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