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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    


see also Part I: Enescu the composer

 

George Enescu: a fiftieth anniversary commemoration through recordings
Part II: Enescu the performer: violinist, conductor and pianist

The second part of my commemoration of George Enescu is in some respects shorter than part I (in the number of recordings it covers). It is however broader in scope as it covers three distinct areas of Enescuís music-making - across a range of composers - preserved on disc. Inevitably, I shall revisit performances of his own compositions Ė mentioned only in passing in part I of my article, and consider the merits in greater detail.

In dealing with the material available, I shall deal with each role in turn and individual composers under subheadings. Details of other recordings as violinist, conductor or pianist that exist but have not yet seen CD issue can be found in Noel Malcolmís excellent book, "George Enescu: his life and music" (Pub: Toccata Press). There awaits a treasure chest of material for companies to explore, if only they have the inclination.

Fate in some ways misrepresents Enescu as a performer on disc. During his life his fame in Europe was largely as a violinist of world class. Ysaye dedicated his third solo sonata, a single movement "Ballade" to Enescu, in admiration of his art. Yet in the United States and on disc at least it is as a conductor that he was better known. He was considered as successor to Toscanini in New York. Pianism was a constant presence: Menuhin recounts him teaching the violin from the keyboard Ė try finding that technique in any conservatoire today!

The violinist

Bach might reasonably be said to form the backbone of Enescuís musical personality as a performer, not just as a violinist. He was given all but two volumes of the complete Bach works by the Queen of Romania, and committed them to memory. Later in life, he commented that Bach must be constant "like a heartbeat", and there can be no greater summation of his approach.

J.S. Bach: Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin

2 CD set: Classica d'Oro 2014

These works formed a centre-piece of Enescuís violin repertoire, and he was justly famed in his interpretation of them. Menuhin held Enescu without equal in them; though his own early recording comes close in my view. Recorded when Enescu was arguably past his prime as a violinist; although still capable of beautiful and captivating things, they do not show the full range of techniques and subtlety of which he was capable.

But they do offer a powerful vision of these works, thoughtful, emotional and often moving. To miss these performances when considering the works is to miss a definitive interpretation. The style Ė though different from todayís Ė is nonetheless just as valid. Often in listening to other versions I hear the seeds sown by Enescu and wonder how much this is known, recognised or acknowledged, even by other violinists. Probably not often enough is the answer.

J.S. Bach: Double Concerto in D minor (rec. HMV, Paris 1932)

With: Yehudi Menuhin, violin I / Orchestre Symphonique de Paris / Pierre Monteux

EMI References 7243 5 67201 2 1

Naxos Historical 8.110965

Arguably the most widely available recording of Enescuís playing on disc. Had it not been for Menuhinís insistence and Monteuxís willingness to pick up the baton, it might not have happened. The orchestra is unmistakably French - how things have changed today! - and of great tone too. The pairing of Enescu and Menuhin makes the hair on your neck rise. At times Menuhin sounds a little too Enescu-like, but this is countered by Enescuís own entries: not a style of playing, just style and dramatic for it. Facility and technique is lightly worn and founded on understanding by all in equal measure - an understanding that permeates from the core outwards. The largo is glorious and burnished, the two outer movements apt sparkling contrasts, making a performance to treasure. This is a great memorial to a remarkable musical vision that spanned the generations.

 

Enescu: Sonata for violin and piano 2, op.6

Enescu: Sonata for violin and piano 3 "in popular Romanian character", op.6

With: Dinu Lipatti, piano

Electrecord Romania EDC 430/431

Enescu once remarked that he found remembering his own works more difficult than those of other composers because he did not have that degree of objectivity about the work, he felt too closely connected with its genesis and the related emotions.

If the approach is not as refined as more recent accounts, Enescu and Lipatti achieve accounts that are more elemental in communicating the essence of both works. The second sonata, in some ways is perhaps the more polished performance, but the third carries the spirit of the gypsy fiddler. Any imperfections, should one see them that way, can equally be seen as bringing something to the experience. Yet again these recordings are testimony to the fact that a composerís own interpretations of his works are often far from the final word on the matter. They are a viewpoint that can be challenged or reinforced by later generations. The recorded sound is serviceable.

 

The conductor

J.S. Bach: Violin Concerti 1 in A minor and 2 in E (rec. HMV, Paris 1932)

With: Yehudi Menuhin / Orchestre Symphonique de Paris

EMI References 7243 5 67201 2 1

There is seemingly little I can add to what I have already said regarding Enescuís performance of the Bach double concerto with Menuhin and Monteux. But there are subtle differences to be noted between Enescuís approach to Bach and Monteuxís. The principal among these is the sense of inevitability that Bachís music has with Enescu. The sound is also more Ďgroundedí, as if built from the basses upwards Ė the way any true orchestra should be. In saying this I am not taking away from Monteux, whom I also greatly revere. If the slow movements show Bach at his most reflective, the outer ones sparkle to glorious effect.

 

J.S. Bach: Mass in B Minor (rec. BBC, London 1951)

With: Suzanne Danco, sop; Kathleen Ferrier, contr.; Peter Pears, tenor; Bruce Boyce, bass / BBC Chorus / Boyd Neel Orchestra

BBC Legends BBCL 4008-7

The recorded sound is muddy and, particularly in choral passages, textures can cloy and distort somewhat. All of this is strange given this comes a BBC studio source at a time when recording technology was reasonably advanced. But if ever there was a recording of Bachís great mass that moved more through vision and absolute commitment than sound quality this is it. The soloists all contribute keenly; Ferrier moving with every word, Danco almost matching her. Of the men, Pears is the more articulate, showing the qualities of word-pointing that made him so great in Schubert and Britten.

Behind it all there is Enescuís benign guiding presence, and yet again the sense of a constant heartbeat is immediately apparent. If more is felt than might be articulated or captured through the recording, I have little doubt that it is due to Enescuís personal yet timeless reading. Those that think they know the work should hear this, and be amazed at just how revelatory it appears.

 

Bartók: Music for strings, percussion and celesta (rec. Besançon, 1951)

With: Orchestre National de France

Tahra TAH 246

There is a story that Enescu travelled to Bryanston to teach at the summer school there, and was to conduct Bartókís Music for strings, percussion and celesta during his stay. However, the copy he was sent in advance went missing en route and he arrived without having been able to consult the score. This transpired shortly before the performance was due to take place, and another score was hastily procured. The performance went ahead as planned, with Enescu sight-reading the fiendishly complicated score as he went! Reports of that event testify that every detail and nuance was in place.

The present performance does much to back these claims up; it is an impressively powerful reading, though inevitably detail is lost in the live recording. Bartók knew Enescu well and they performed together in Bucharest. They shared an interest in the folk music of each otherís country. So from this perspective too Enescuís understanding of Bartókís idiom is unimpeachable. If on the part of the listener a little effort is required, it is amply rewarded.

 

Chausson: Poème (rec. HMV, Paris 1933)

With: Yehudi Menuhin / Orchestre Symphonique de Paris

EMI References 7243 5 65960 2 3

Naxos Historical 8.110967

By all accounts, Enescuís finest recording as violinist was of Chaussonís work, with Stanford Schlüssel at the piano. Unfortunately it is not currently commercially available, though I was able to obtain a dubious sounding transfer on CD (home made on a PC, with hand-written label!) at a market in Bucharest. In it Enescuís violin is infinitely pliable, and here more than elsewhere it is possible to hear him at something approaching the height of his powers.

As elsewhere in their joint ventures, Menuhin no doubt benefits from Enescuís guidance and performance experience of the solo part. Again the joy of having a true French orchestral tone in this work is hard to underestimate. It is interesting how closely Enescu shapes the orchestra to fit his playing of the solo part from years earlier. Menuhin at times too shows that he could have heard that recording, though he is not above bringing his own ideas to the work as well.

 

DvořŠk: Violin Concerto in A minor, op.53 (rec. HMV, Paris 1936)

With: Yehudi Menuhin / Orchestre de Conservatoire Paris

Naxos Historical 8.110966

Just as there is a temptation to look back on recording history and look at the opportunities that were missed and the recordings that were not made for whatever reason, there is on occasion the thought, "Why on earth did they record this?" This recording sadly induces such thoughts.

It must have been something the company wanted a recording of at the time, hoping that Enescu and Menuhin would bring something to it, or at very least boost sales. But both conductor and soloist seem uninterested from the very start Ė DvořŠk played no great part in either of their performing lives, and this is painfully obvious. Although the sound is decent, I cannot with all my love of Enescu, Menuhin (and DvořŠk) recommend this as a performance to revisit, unless mediocrity from the great is your thing.

However the coupling of the Schumann (with Barbirolli as conductor in New York, 1938) is another story altogether.

 

Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody 2 (rec. Besançon, 1951)

With: Orchestre National de France

Tahra TAH 246

That Enescu grew to dislike his early rhapsodies, particularly the first, is well documented. However he did on more than one occasion submit to making new recordings of them. This version, from the Lipatti memorial concert, is captured live in a rather hard acoustic. It does at least show a tender ability to shape tempi and phrasing, and provide a reminder of the close ties that existed culturally between Romania and France at this time. Whilst other studio recordings are in better sound, as yet none are commonly available on CD.

 

Enescu: First orchestral suite, op.9 (rec. Bucharest)

With: Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra

Electrecord Romania EDC 430/431

Whilst neither the sound nor the playing are front rank, the interpretation must be one of the most deliberate available of this remarkable, sparkling orchestral score. Enescu sanctions small cuts in the opening Preludiu à líunison, which could only have been written by a Romanian Ė the spirit of the doina imbues every bar. The rest is taken reasonably, although the most perplexing is his reading of the finale Ė taken at about half the speed that most conductors adopt today. In my opinion it misses the effervescent quality that Mandeal for one puts across; however, who am I to argue with Enescu? There is sure to have been some reasoning behind it, even if now this seems lost. For those interested in the history of Enescu performance, as with all his recordings of his own works it remains a key document.

 

Lalo: Symphonie Espagnole (rec. HMV, Paris 1933)

With: Yehudi Menuhin / Orchestre Symphonique de Paris

EMI References 7243 5 65960 2 3

Naxos Historical 8.110967

Just as with the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, Enescuís influence upon the performance history of Laloís Symphonie Espagnole often remains unrecognised. It was he who first regularly performed the work with the middle movement Intermezzo, before which time only the outer four movements were commonly performed. In this recording the Menuhin / Enescu partnership made the first case on recording for its inclusion so coherently that today it would be unthinkable for any performance or recording to omit it. Even so, following this recording it took fully thirty years for every violinist to faithfully follow the full score.

But what a work and performance this is! It has the feeling that it is deliberately setting out to make a case for itself, not through bombast but through calm and clear understatement. Every fresh-faced violin student or young virtuoso would do well to hear it, and take on board a genuine slice of recording history.

 

Lipatti: Symphonie concertante (2 pianos and orchestra)

Lipatti: Satrarii (Tziganes) (rec. Besançon, 1951)

With: Madeleine Lipatti and Bela Siki, pianos / Orchestre National de France

Tahra TAH 246

For most music lovers Dinu Lipattiís genius will ever be at the keyboard, but his secret passion lay in composition. These two performances, which are a commemoration of the composer conducted by his godfather, Enescu, in collaboration with his widow and a pupil, should be taken as something of a family affair and a mark of the tireless work Enescu did to promote Romanian contemporaries outside their native land.

Lipattiís compositional idiom is somewhat complex, and the difficulty the orchestra has with it shows at times. When the concert was repeated later in Geneva under Ansermet things appear under greater control. (available on Archiphon ARC-112/113).

If the symphonie concertante is more classical in style with the second movement in sonata form, the tonal influence of Stravinsky is audible. You can also hear polyrhythmic passages reminiscent of Enescuís own compositions, jazzy interplay between soloists and even the lyrical colouring of the Romanian doina. Enescu brings this out more than Ansermet. Tziganes is Lipattiís only piece of programme music. It chronicles the wanderings of Romanian gypsies and here surely receives a performance from Enescuís heart, shaped with a deeply imbued love of composer, people and country.

 

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, op.64 (rec. HMV, Paris 1938)

With: Yehudi Menuhin / Orchestre des Concerts Colonne

Naxos Historical 8.110967

This is the first of four recordings Menuhin made of the work, and technically, from his point of view, it is the best, though it did fare as well as some later ones (1958 with Efrem Kurtz, particularly) in the market at the time. Enescuís gentle presence is there as ever, and Menuhin responds instinctively to this in the way he shapes the outer movements with their introspection and transition. These are qualities that Enescu masterfully handles with the orchestra, ensuring that this is a recording no collector should be without. As Naxos couples it with the Lalo and Chausson (see entries) also under Enescuís direction this is a CD you canít go wrong with.

 

 

Mozart: Violin concerto 3 in G (rec. HMV, Paris 1935)

Mozart: Violin concerto 7 in D (rec. HMV, Paris 1932)

With: Yehudi Menuhin / Orchestre Symphonique de Paris

History Magic Moment 205170-302

An interesting pairing: one concerto beyond all doubt by Mozart, the other probably from the nineteenth century based upon fragments of actual Mozart manuscript. Although both are performed with considerable flair and not a little soberness it is interesting to reflect that were it not for Enescuís influence Menuhin might never have taken the concerto in D into his repertoire.

As a violinist, Enescu remained firm in his advocacy of the concerto Ė practically the only international violinist to do so. And, as with the Chausson, this transferred to the young Yehudi. Throughout Enescu directs with a sureness and lightness of touch that make the Andante particularly effective. Menuhinís shared vision is to be heard throughout.

Turning to the concerto in G a similar approach is in evidence that shows maturity beyond Menuhinís years at the time, and a lifetimeís authority from Enescu. There can be few conductors that shape the concerto so persuasively to the violinistís part as Enescu, but then few understood the violin as he did.

 

Schumann: Symphony 2, op.61 (rec. Decca, London 1947)

With: London Philharmonic Orchestra

Dutton Labs CDK 1209

Enescuís approach to Schumann is considerably less romantic than some, and beneficial for it, and not dissimilar to the readings of Kubelik. The LPO are in good sound and flexibly mould their playing to Enescuís tempi. If I find something missing from the opening Sostenuto assai, the Scherzo is lively, the Adagio espressivo one of the most expressive available and the closing Allegro finely worked. This is a distinct Ďtakeí on Schumann, no doubt the result to a large extent of another composerís understanding of structure and building of orchestral sound. Also, the coupling of the First Symphony, conducted by Piero Coppola, is much to be recommended.

 

Paganini: Violin concerto 1 in D, op.6 (rec. HMV, Paris 1934)

With: Yehudi Menuhin / Orchestre Symphonique de Paris

Biddulph LAB 051

Of all Menuhinís early recordings in Paris with orchestra, this one is particularly insightful. In later life he commented that as a conductor many works he performed bore the imprint of Enescuís interpretation, such was their lasting power upon him. It might very easily have been the same in terms of violin playing too. In this concerto Menuhin displays technical bravura alongside depth of insight to an unusual degree, characteristics that Enescu would have encouraged. Enescu coaxes particularly Italianate playing from the Paris orchestra, at a time when individual orchestras still carried a specific sound. Remarkable, and still a benchmark reading.

 

As pianist

Enescu: First piano suite, op.3 (fragments)

Enescu: Second piano suite, op.10 (Sarabande and Pavanne)

Electrecord Romania EDC 430/431

Though there are inevitable deficiencies of sound quality - where in this repertoire Luiza Borac on Avie has swept all before her - the approach to pianism says a lot for how Enescu approached music-making in general.

With keen insight and a decent technique, though by no means virtuosic, I am reminded of Furtwänglerís piano playing. The impression achieved is greater than the parts, and achieved in spite of a technique that occasionally hinders. However everything is there in spirit. A soft yet discernable bass underlines a carefully drawn treble, each aware of the otherís role and balance. All in the service of interpretation rather than ego.

This is Enescu in a nutshell perhaps. The recording seems appropriate to this towering musical genius and most humble of men and that sense increases with each passing moment spent in the company of his precious recorded legacy.

Evan Dickerson

see also Part I: Enescu the composer



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