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George ENESCU: a fiftieth anniversary commemoration through recordings

Part I: Enescu the composer

George Enescu was one of the towering musical figures of the twentieth century, yet fifty years after his death, his work remains largely unknown, and his lasting importance mostly unrecognised, outside his native Romania. To an extent this is because he was a genuine musical renaissance man: virtuoso violinist of worldwide fame, pianist, conductor, teacher and composer. The recordings he made as a performer will be reviewed in Part II of this commemoration. Part 1 concentrates on his compositions and available recordings of them, though my remarks inevitably draw upon live performances and broadcasts as well. My aim is not to dissect each work and look at the minutiae of individual recordings but to offer those coming new to Enescu some impression of his compositional output and, in broad terms, the qualities of available recordings.

Enescu was born in Liveni, a small town in the Moldavian region of northern Romania in 1881, two years before Wagnerís death. At the age of seven he entered the Vienna Conservatoire, to study the violin; only the second time the Conservatoire accepted a pupil under the age of ten. Whilst in Vienna he met Brahms, whose style heavily influenced early compositions. By his early twenties he was in Paris at the Conservatoire there, and already a prolific composer. His peers in the composition class of Fauré included Ravel and Florent Schmitt. Other tutors included Gédalge, for fugue and counterpoint, whose influence Enescu was to acknowledge as key to his development.

Stories abound as to his prodigious musical gifts Ė not least his memory Ė that enabled him to recall by heart most of the major works of Bach, Beethoven and Wagner, to name but three. One feels that Casals very much had a point when he said of Enescu, "He is the greatest musical phenomenon since Mozart". High praise indeed.

For anyone wishing to know Enescu in more depth the only English language source is Noel Malcolmís excellent book, ĎGeorge Enescu: His Life and Musicí (publ. Toccata Press)[review]. Readers of French could attempt hunting down a copy Bernard Gavotyís "Les souvenirs de Georges Enesco", transcriptions of recorded interviews, (Flammarion, Paris, 1955). For those interested in live performances, then the biannual Enescu competition and Festival (henceforward ĎFestivalí) in Bucharest is a must. The next is this September. Details available at (

Enescuís compositions can be hard to look at chronologically, as this largely does not correspond to the opus number sequence he employed. Often works of the same type, although composed years apart, are placed under the same opus number, e.g. op.26 refers to two cello sonatas, the first dating from 1898 and the second from 1935. For this reason I will take works in turn by category and instrumentation. A list of opus numbered works is available at (, and the site also contains other interesting material on Enescu.

Recent years have shown increased interest in Enescu by record companies. There are six orchestral Ďsetsí available, that I will refer to throughout by the conductorís name followed by record company given in brackets. Inevitably some releases are only available through import, or most easily found in Romania (Electrecord) Ė details of these are given to aid the determined collector. Some preliminary comments on each are given below:

  • Lawrence Foster: orchestral works (Erato Ultima or Apex); symphonies and Oedipe (EMI), chamber works (Claves).

For many years Fosterís accounts were the only available option. Recorded by Erato or EMI in excellent sound, he mainly leads the Monte Carlo Philharmonic. Notable for so far having produced the only French language recording of Oedipe. Erato 2CD set is mid price, Apex is super budget, EMI and Claves sets are full price.

When this 7 CD budget-price set appeared in the 1990s, the occasional rawness of the recorded sound was commented upon. It could be said the recordings do not capture Mandeal and the GEPO at their most impulsive, though there is a sense of structure, dynamism and feeling throughout Ė and I would rather have this than just excellent sound quality.

  • Horia Andreescu (National Radio Orchestra; Electrecord or Olympia labels)

Available on Olympia in the UK on a short-lived licence from Electrecord, Andreescuís 7CDs present the chief Romanian-based alternative to Mandeal. The recorded sound is natural, and both orchestra and conductor give of many yearsí experience.

  • Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (BBC Philharmonic; Chandos label)

Including the three symphonies, two rhapsodies and the third orchestral suite on 3CDs, this is recorded in typically full-blooded Chandos sound. Available at full price.

  • Alexandru Lascae (Iasi Philharmonic; Ottavo label)

Perhaps the least known of the sets, available as a UK import. Lascae has long been active with the Iasi orchestra, and in decent sound too. Like Mandealís it lacks impulsiveness, but is nicely atmospheric.

  • Marco Polo label

Marco Polo was the first budget label to issue a set using a variety of Romanian conductors and orchestras. Sound quality is generally far from ideal, though often individual performances are worth investigating.


Symphonies Other orchestral works

Opera: Oedipe

Chamber compositions: Sonatas Quartets, Quintet, Octet, Dectet Miscellaneous

Piano solo


Orchestral works:


ĎSchoolí Symphonies 1-4

Composed during his conservatoire years in Vienna and Paris, the four works show the precocious talent of the young Enescu, and bear the imprint of many early influences. The first (1895, aged 14) is cast in four movements very much under the shadow of Brahms, whom the young Enescu played under in a student orchestra. Charles Koechlin remarked on its "remarkable sense of development from one so young". The fourth is richly chromatic and dates from 1898 and has intense dramatic pathos through the use of strict polyphonic forms and fugue, revealing at once the influence of his teacher André Gédalge, to whom the work is dedicated.

Of all the readings in Andreescuís recorded cycle, these are surely the most interesting and valuable, being the only available. Listening to the three completed symphonies that follow without hearing these or the two uncompleted symphonies (4 and 5) is like only examining the torso of a body, and neglecting the extremities, where many interesting features are to be found.

Symphony 1, Op. 13

Influences and parallels abound here: Elgarís first symphony dates from three years later, but you would not guess it. Concerns include resilience, melancholy and sweeping romanticism (think Wagner, Scriabin and early Schoenberg and later shades of Chausson, Debussy or even maybe Mahler) with glorious melodies and colourful orchestration.

Rozhdestvenskyís recording is broad yet detailed. Lawrence Foster chooses faster tempos but his 1990 EMI recording lacks Rozhdestvenskyís texture on Chandos. Lascaeís Moldova PO version for Ottavo sounds almost throttled at the throat, though the performance is not unrefined and not an out and out loss. Mandeal and Andreescu offer swift opening movements. Mandealís view of the piece has plenty of character, but as so often the recording is a little against him. Andreescuís chief draw is in his coupling of the fourth school symphony.

The real thing though comes in the form of an Electrecord release (EDC 540), if you can find it, of George Georgescu conducting the "George Enescu" Philharmonic. Made a few years after the composerís death this recording (coupling: the rhapsodies) shows all the qualities of these great and undervalued musicians. The sweep and power brought to it, but also the tenderness in the service of Enescu, create an overwhelming impression. For its age the recording is immediate and full bodied.

Symphony 2, Op. 17

Again parallels of Strauss, Szymanowski and Scriabin come into things, though the work is resolutely of a different voice. The orchestral handling has advanced somewhat, particularly regarding the use of woodwinds and any recording should be careful to observe this facet of the work.

This is maybe the least successfully performed symphony on record in any major cycle. I am ultimately unconvinced by Mandeal Ė though he is perhaps preferable to Andreescu for Electrecord/Olympia, who drags things too much at times. The Chandos offering suffers from lack of experience with the work or under-rehearsal by the orchestra. Lascae and Andreescu (in another recording for Marco Polo) are in variously bad to awful sound. Fosterís recording for EMI is detailed but short on drama and ultimately punches below the workís weight.

Symphony 3, Op. 21

Like the opera and Vox Maris, the symphony is Enescuís most advanced statement using the technique of heterophony (the superimposition of variations drawn from a common melodic source). Such a technique appears hard on the page but relatively easy on the ear. Early commentators likened the structure to a triptych by Dante: purgatory Ė sufferings of the Inferno Ė and the ecstasy of Paradise. It is no coincidence perhaps that during the same time work on the final act of Oedipe was underway, which concludes in an otherworldly assumption by the Eumenides. That both employ a female chorus at the end (the symphonyís is wordless) adds to the ethereal effect in the right hands.

For many the obvious first choice will be Foster on EMI as it is paired with the first two symphonies and Vox Maris. Of all Fosterís recordings this is the most recent (from 2004, in Lyon), and it displays a marked advance in his Enescu adventure on disc. He is more dramatic than in the accounts of the earlier symphonies, and Les Eléments chamber choir contribute movingly to the final movementís overall effect, though the acoustic sours the whole somewhat.

Mandeal is moving too, though his rendition is starker still than Foster. Here Mandealís recording works in his favour for once and you can really grasp the parallel with Dante (although it is one Enescu never made). You donít just hear the inner torment and ecstatic release, Mandeal makes you live it. The quasi-liturgical effects of church bells, combined with the super-enlarged orchestra (organ, piano, extra brass) all make their mark. Andreescu on Electrecord / Olympia hits the mark for me in the second movement, almost matching Mandealís expressiveness, but by comparison the last movement remains somewhat earth-bound.

Other versions are marred by their presentation or recording. Marco Poloís Baciu with the Cluj Philharmonic give the work in a single track, and an all too muddy acoustic pervades. With remastering and retracking this recording would merit greater investigation, as it is a strongly characterised interpretation. Which cannot be said of Rozhdestvenskyís account: he labours hard to little effect, though the Chandos recording quality is of a superior level.


Symphonies 4 and 5 (incomplete, completed Bentoiu)

Like Enescuís Ďschoolí symphonies, the unfinished fourth and fifth symphonies, are all but unknown and unplayed. Composer Pascal Bentoiu, who undertook the completion of both works, is in no doubt that they pose interesting questions as to the composerís future direction after the Chamber Symphony, pointing to further density in the writing.

The Fourth is partially thematically related to the Symphony 1, as if Enescu tries to re-approach a previous problem at a higher level, embodying hidden doubts and suffering, in contrast to the earlier workís jubilation. The Fifth on the other hand is "the story of a life, naturally ending with the sublime testament of a soul dissolving itself in the Great All" (Bentoiu), for which Enescu planned a setting of Mihai Eminescuís poem "One Wish Alone Have I" for solo tenor and female chorus.

The only existing recording, part of Romanian Radioís Enescu Series, presents live performances from the 1998 Festival. Like all completions, however, you canít help feeling that there is something inevitably missing when the works are realized.

Other orchestral works

Poème Roumain, Op. 1 (1898)

Composed entirely in the classical idiom, and described by Enescu as the "distant impression of familiar images from home", with the feeling of a summer evening and shepherd flutes in the first half. This contrasts with a stormy second half, and a grand finale.

The Marco Polo recording is a re-issue of recordings made in Romania during the communist era. As such, the recording has a cut in the finale, in the place where the old Romanian National Anthem ("Traiasca Regele" = "Long Live the King") was written by Enescu, and substituted a drum roll over a led chord at the end. Recent Romanian recordings (Andreescu, Mandeal, etc.) and of course, Lawrence

Foster's now present the entire score without the cuts. Fosterís acoustic is somewhat backward and fails to bring out the full colours of the score, so perhaps not quite a first choice.

Symphonie Concertante for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 8 (1901)

Hard though it might be to believe, the work was not greeted enthusiastically at its Bucharest premiere under Enescuís direction. In two contrasting movements Ė a slow introduction and majestic following movement, and lasting around 24 minutes, this is not as slight a work as one might think. Considering Enescuís ability to produce sonorous violin playing and his concern over two cello sonatas, this is his closest essay to a concerto for the instrument.

Choice between available versions is likely to be governed by the couplings in addition to purely internal factors. Mandealís soloist is Marin Cazacu, principal cellist of the "George Enescu" Philharmonic, and one of the foremost Romanian cellists of today. He follows in the path set by artists such as Radu Aldulescu. The performance is fully persuasive from the soloistís angle, and Mandeal provides sensitive support. Given the couplings of the Chamber Symphony and (to a lesser extent) the Marot songs, this version would be a first recommendation. Cazacu is Andreescuís soloist, but Andreescuís handling of the orchestral part is not as vivid as Mandealís. Foster on Erato Apex (2CDs) is acceptable though Franco Maggio-Ormezowski does not equal Cazacu in the solo part. This however will be the chief draw for those wanting a large selection of Enescu at super budget price: couplings include both Rhapsodies, Poème roumain, Op. 1 and the three orchestral suites.

Romanian Rhapsodies, Op. 11 (1901 and 1902)

If any works have received over-exposure in Enescuís oeuvre, it is these two rhapsodies. He recognized how these early works narrowed his reputation as a composer and made it difficult for later works to be accepted by the public. Towards the end of his life Enescu declared himself sick of them Ė particularly the first Ė and viewed requests for yet more recordings as "un grosse affaire commerciale". During the Communist era they were used to crudely pin the label of Ďfolkloric composerí to Enescu Ė displaying the complete misunderstanding of Enescu by the Ceaucescu regime. Inevitably any Enescu series includes them, not to mention other versions too numerous to mention.

Where Mandeal is strangely unwavering in the constancy of his tempo, Andreescu like most conductors, is more pliant and pulling with the line and assisted through characterful playing. Foster paces adequately but his Monte Carlo orchestra is somewhat impersonal on Erato. The most outrageously opulent reading comes, not surprisingly, from Leopold Stokowski with the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra (RCA 74321 70931 2).

Historic recordings include three of each Rhapsody under the composerís direction, together with one from the late 1950s of the newly retitled "George Enescu" Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra under George Georgescu (Electrecord EDC 540). This last recording, coupled with Symphony 1, is in good sound despite its age.

Orchestral Suites

Number 1 in C major, Op. 9 (1903)

Number 2, Op. 20 (1915)

Number 3 in D major "Villageoise", Op. 27 (1938)

It would be tempting, but a mistake, to entirely view the orchestral suites as a parallel to their piano opposites.

From the start of the first suite there is something consciously Romanian in Enescuís writing, the Prélude à líunisson, which he derived from the bitter sweetness of the doina. Fauré in his review of a performance ignored completely this groundbreaking passage and instead concentrated on the later three movements. Perhaps this shows his own safe ground of sure comment, more than anything else. Later movements pick up styles and give them a decidedly Enescuvian slant Ė we could almost be in the realm of a French baroque suite, but not quite. That is wholly more the province of the second suite, consisting as it does of an overture, sarabande, gigue, menuet, air and bourée.

The third suite however returns wholeheartedly to the Romanian character Ė much as in the third violin sonata, but on a larger scale. The movement titles are descriptive of rustic countryside and scenes, much like the vignettes that form Impressions díenfance.

The clear first choice from a cost point of view has to be Foster on Erato or Apex, as all three suites are coupled. But the choice is more difficult should one be after more searching interpretations of these works. Mandeal and Andreescu both pair the last two suites. Rozhdestvensky presents the third suite only, well played, and should provide ample satisfaction for those wanting his rather general reading of the coupling first symphony.

Mandealís timbre is good throughout, but at crucial moments is let down by poor editing and exaggerated pauses in the first suite. Having heard him live in this work, I can state with some confidence that his view is more impulsive than this recording suggests.

As regards the other two suites I would choose Andreescu in the second and Mandeal in the third, though neither is a loss in either work if you canít stretch to both versions. Andreescu brings just that extra air around the music in the second suite and lets it breathe marginally more. The third suite however is perhaps, aside from the octet and dectet, Mandealís finest Enescu recording as he really gets between the notes and invests all with atmosphere.

Vox Maris, symphonic poem, Op. 31 (1951?)

Of all the great works that owe their inspiration to the sea, Vox Maris remains the least known. The fruit of some twenty yearsí work, its style straddles those of Enescuís middle and later periods, and clear links are present with the Third Symphony and Oedipe.

The tale (to a poem by Renée Willy) tells of a mariner watching the horizon, transfixed by the fate of a ship in a tempest, a dashing rescue attempt Ė unsuccessful, the satiated sea recovers its calm Ė the gods have been appeased, and all ends in moonlight. Set for full orchestra, wordless choir and tenor soloist, the work makes heavy demands, but also offers a great reward for the listener.

That it remains so seldom performed in the concert hall is a shame, though happily versions are presented on disc by Mandeal, Andreescu and Foster. For a work of such inherent drama, a strong reading is required, and happily again all three conductors provide one. Fosterís reading is Lyon-based and shares many qualities with his recording of the third symphony with the same orchestra. The Romanian tenor Marius Brenciu provides the important solo line, his slightly nasal tone adding a pleasing pinch of pepper to the mix. Those acquiring the set for the symphonies under Foster should in no way overlook his urgent account of Vox Maris.

Of almost identical pacing throughout, Andreescuís account features Robert Nagy as soloist Ė less nasal, though as telling with words. A pity that the orchestra do not quite draw out the last ounce of drama from the piece. Mandealís account is the most extreme Ė his tempi marginally quicker, his dramatic range greater, and his tenor (Florin Diaconescu), perhaps the most acquired taste of the three. However it remains a compelling account, and is coupled with the Poème roumain, op.1, and the incomplete Voix de la nature. Given that this Ďtorsoí is only available in Mandealís version, and provides an intriguing contrast to Vox Maris, it is a disc worth serious consideration, even if one has already gone with Foster on EMI.

Chamber symphony for 12 instruments, Op. 33 (1954)

For many the chamber symphony remains the hardest Enescu nut to crack. His style is at its densest and not closely woven using forces that hover between the chamber and the orchestral. The four movement form points to symphonic thought but the material is grown from tiny cells, organised, contrasted and developed in a continuing stream, leading to a sunlit conclusion.

One of the prime concerns here is to ensure that all instruments are carefully voice, their individual timbres contrasted with the others; another must be the seemingly effortless evolution of such a constructed and tightly woven music fabric. If Mandeal wins the toss over Andreescu by a nose it is due to the character of his woodwinds, tone of the strings and liveliness of Nicolae Licaretís piano playing. Foster on Claves turns in a creditable performance, coupled with the dectet, but lacks that extra Romanian dimension to bring the whole thing alive.

Caprice Roumain for violin and orchestra (incomplete, completed Taranu and Lupu)

Those reading below about the violin sonatas and Impressions díEnfance will quickly discover much about the recordings of those works that form the coupling of the completed Caprice Roumain. The conductor Cristian Mandeal once told me he thought the completion "interesting, though not true Enescu". Whatever ones point of view this is the closest we have to the violin concerto that Enescu never wrote, no doubt fearing having to cart the thing around the worldís great concert halls. What sustained his occasional interest in it was an expansion of the gypsy folk dialogue that inhabits the third sonata in particular beyond the confines of a duet, as he seeks to form a band of lauteri from the orchestra. Lupuís commitment is matched by orchestra and conductor to give a clear impression of an impressive work (Electrecord EDC 324/325).


Oedipe, tragedy in 4 Acts and six scenes, Op. 23 (1920-1931)

Yehudi Menuhin sums up Enescuís commitment to Oedipe, his only opera, and the importance of it within his overall compositional output:

"As long as I knew my beloved and great teacher, the score of this overwhelming opera was by his side. Night and day, instead of sleeping after and between concerts, he would work on it [Ö] it can truly be said ĎHere lies the very heart and heartblood of George Enescuí."

The librettist, Edmond Fleg, originally sketched a vast text, designed to cover two consecutive evenings, on Enescuís urging reduced it to a single evening, covering the span of Oedipeís life from birth to death. By and large the plot follows Sophocles, but some license is used in the scene with the Sphinx.

Composition was long and tortuous, lasting some 26 years between the first sketches and the premiere. Enescu worked on the piano reduction of the score first, only for this to be lost in transit bound for Russia, and only later recovered with the help of Bruno Walter. In the meantime, Enescu was forced to start again, and so he did. He finally turned to orchestration a task that would last some 18 plus years. Once completed, it waited four years until the triumphant premiere at the Paris Opera.

Critical opinion at the time said of it, "Not to know Oedipe is to ignore a huge and specific stage in Enescuís creation. It is an outstanding event in the history of opera" (Aram Khatchaturian). "Oedipe is one of the most astounding works of contemporary composition" (Piero Coppola). I was careful not to use Romanian opinions. My own is that Oedipe lies with Busoniís Doktor Faust as one of the most neglected masterworks of the last century.

The reason for its neglect must rest with the huge demands it makes, though those few houses that have mounted it in recent years have displayed the qualities that drew forth such glowing criticism after the Paris premiere. With vocal lines that are eminently singable, a keen sense of drama unfolding inexorably throughout, and key contributions from orchestra and chorus there are rich rewards to be had.

Fosterís recording (EMI France CDS 7 54011 2) is really the only choice available. Whilst there are many fine things about this set (the contributions of almost all soloists, orchestral detail and chorus), I find the chief drawback is Fosterís conducting. He paints the drama with a more limited palette than other performances I have experienced. That said though José van Dam is dignified in the title role, using the words with conviction, as do Nicolai Gedda and Marjana Lipovsek in particular.

There are two other recordings readers might occasionally encounter. First, a live performance from 1955 given in Paris barely two weeks after Enescuís death. Charles Bruck, a great though undervalued Romanian-born conductor, leads a cast that includes Xavier Depraz as Oedipe and Rita Gorr as the Sphinx. In remarkably good sound (from a French radio source), this searching reading is worth seeking out.

The same could also be said musically of the Electrecord recording (EDC 269/270/271) conducted by Mihai Brediceanu, dating from 1964. Painstakingly rehearsed and recorded over three months this amounts to the pinnacle of the companyís achievements regarding Enescu, with every role taken by a star of the Romanian opera at the time. Chief drawbacks are obviously availability and the fact that it is sung in Romanian translation, as was common at the time.

My own experiences of Oedipe began with a concert performance at the Edinburgh Festival in 2002. Mandeal conducted the BBC SSO, with John Relyea in the title role; in a performance that was galvanized by Mandealís experience and Relyeaís astonishing delivery of the score and willingness to push himself to his vocal limits.

Last year I attended two of three staged performances in Berlin (the Götz Friedrich production which is shared with Vienna); Mandeal conducted, with Esa Ruuttinen as Oedipe and Marjana Lipovsek doubling Antigone and the Sphinx. Both are by far the most experienced exponents of their roles around today, and next reprise them this September (2005) in Bucharest during the Festival.

January 2005 saw a new production by Graham Vick given at the Teatro Lirico in Cagliari; again Mandeal conducted, with Romanian bass-baritone Stefan Ignat as Oedipe. Ignatís relative inexperience with the role showed, as did his struggle with the French language at times, however he rose to key moments well and could yet develop into a forceful exponent of the future.

Listening to off-air broadcasts of the Edinburgh and Cagliari performances, what is most striking is precisely the quality I find most lacking in Fosterís studio recording: immediacy of impact. Mandeal draws this from orchestra, chorus and soloists and views all four acts as an arch of inevitability for Oedipe from birth to death. Within this he does not neglect detail, and is unafraid to move from slightest subtlety of line to unleashing of the tremendous power laden in the score. There could be no greater mark of respect for Enescu than to capture Mandealís view of this score, and any record company should act without delay. Until that time comes, future live performances are unmissable events in any Enescu loverís calendar.

Chamber compositions:


Violin sonata 1, Op. 2 (1897)

By far the least explored of the sonatas on recording. This is a work that shows Enescuís as yet unformed compositional mind hard at work in the assimilation of basic skills: texture, voicing, rhythm. No recordings are currently widely available.

Violin sonata 2, Op. 6 (1899)

It was with the second violin sonata and the string octet that Enescu felt he had finally become himself as a composer. It steers a clear path between the Franckian-influenced first sonata and the folkloric third sonata, and shows a clear emphasis of melody over form, though this is hardly disregarded. Teeming with polyphonic superimpositions and even a striking unison passage, Enescuís mind begins to grow the seeds of later compositional concerns.

Seeing as there has been a tendency to partner the work with the third sonata (where violinists have recorded both), your choice could be coloured by the comments below. I would say that Sherban Lupu makes a safe recommendation, if only to emphasise the fact that there is nothing held back in his performance, or that of Valentin Gheorghiu as accompanist. Naturally, Enescuís own recording with Lipatti on Electrecord (EDC430/431) is of historic interest, though sadly in poor sound. Expressively too he seems no match for Lupu, at least in this instance.

Violin sonata 3 "sur le charactère populaire Roumain", Op. 25 (1926)

Enescu was quite clear that this work was in the Romanian character rather than the Romanian style, indicating the use of his own thematic material to be played as if by a gypsy violinist with innate musical reaction and technique, rather than a mannered classical violinistís technique. As Leonidas Kavakos put it, "there has been nothing like this since. To be successful with this work all one needs do is find a tone that is appropriate and follow everything Enescu says." In itself, that is a big ask of any duo.

The long performance history of the work on recording includes Enescu accompanied by Lipatti in 1943 (Electrecord EDC 430/431) and an earlier recording with Menuhin in 1936 (EMI 7243 5 65962 2 1).

Another Enescu pupil, the last surviving, Ida Haendel, is partnered by Ashkenazy on Decca (455 488-2) and both cope nicely with the gipsy-style inflections. The idiom is certainly mastered by Sherban Lupu on Electrecord as part of his set with the Caprice Roumain and Impressions díEnfance. Kavakosís own reading on EMC (coupled with Impressions and Ravel works) is idiomatic too, and Lupuís closest rival, but in my book Lupu wins it by a whisker.

Those after a budget issue should consider the Opreans on Hyperion Helios or Mihaela Martin and Roland Pontinen on BIS (BIS-CD-1216). I would avoid at all costs the reading from Patrick Bismuth and Anne Gaels on Zig Zag Térritoires (ZZT010801). Quite how they succeeded in making this wondrous music dull I do not know.

"Impressions díEnfance" for violin and piano, Op. 28 (1938)

Of all works that call back to Enescuís childhood in the land of deities and legends, this is perhaps the work that embodies it most. A suite of ten miniatures, the work paints vivid yet tiny images of a far away time and place: wandering minstrels, crickets, moonlight, sunshine, streams at the bottom of the garden. Here most evidently is Enescu in middle age still showing a childlike sense of discovery.

Recent recordings have been numerous and successful: Kavakos on ECM, Lupu on Electrecord, Martin on BIS or Gidon Kremer and Oleg Maisenberg on Teldec (0630-13597-2). If you want the sonatas too then Lupu is an obvious first choice, where he is partnered throughout by the great Romanian pianist Valentin Gheorghiu (no relation to soprano Angela). As a supplement to this, or instead if money is tight, then Kremer is greatly to be recommended, offering Schulhoff and Bartók sonatas as attractive couplings.

Avie have just issued a recording by Philippe Graffin that I have not yet heard. The review by Jonathan Woolf suggests that it could well be worth investigating.

Cello sonatas 1 and 2, Op. 26 (1898 and 1935)

Of the several versions that I have heard over the past few years, many interesting ones are now unavailable, or offer only one of the sonatas. A fine pairing of the two, together with the Nocturne and Saltarello comes from Viviane Spanoghe and André de Groote on Classic Talent (DOM 2910 79).

Head and shoulders above all however is the version on Arte Nova (74321 54461 2) featuring Gerhard Zank and Donald Sulzen. Were it not for the music, and the lively interpretations and singing line of Zankís cello, this recording would still find its way on to my list of treasured items. This must be one of the most perfectly voiced piano recordings ever made, making for a genuine partnership in response to the music: listen for example to the interaction in the last two movements of the second sonata. Gloriously uplifting music-making all round.

Quartets, Quintet, Octet, Dectet

Quartet 1 for piano, violin, viola and cello in D major, Op. 16 (1909-11)

Alas, a major work awaiting its first commercial recording. Perhaps a situation that a label such as Naxos might find their way to resolving sooner rather than later.

String quartets 1 and 2, Op. 22 (1920 and 1950-1)

Enescuís two essays in the quartet format show, as elsewhere in his output, a tightening of thematic materials and compactness of structure from earlier work to later.

Again an obvious candidate for pairing on disc, there are so far three main versions in contention: the Voces Quartet (Electrecord or Olympia OCD 413), Quatuor Athenaeum Enesco (cpo 999 0682) and the Quatuor Ad Libitum (Naxos 8.554721). All three are celebrated ensembles in Romania and each brings experience to their recording of the works. But as often is the case Naxosís issue will be a clear winner Ė they play this music as if it were the greatest music ever for a quartet, with total conviction, commitment and love. In a recording that gives each plenty of bloom against the somewhat boxy Electrecord or recessed acoustic of cpoís release, there seems little argument to answer.

One release scheduled for later this year on the SOMM label will feature the second quartet along with JanŠčekís second quartet, played by Romanian ensemble, the ConTempo quartet. On the basis of concert performances, this is a group to watch out for.

Quartet 2 for piano, violin, viola and cello in D minor, Op. 30 (1944)

Quintet for piano, 2 violins, viola and cello in A minor, Op. 29 (1940)

In some ways similar to the Dectet, discussed below, the Quintet is a tightly woven fabric of converging musical lines. The challenge here is for ensembles to bring them out sufficiently, and highlight the flavours that are apparent within the piece Ė anything from late Fauré and Debussy in the first movement to a distinct Bartók sideways glance in the last. Less tunefully memorable than the Octet perhaps this is still fascinating music.

Two available recordings vie for contention, Kremerata Baltica (Nonesuch CD 7559 79682-2) and The Solomon Ensemble on Naxos (8.557159). Given the coupling on Nonesuch Ė see below about the Octet Ė my preference is for Naxos, where their pairing and the price difference play into the bargain.

The Naxos pairing is the second piano quartet, of which the Naxos recording is the only available version. The natural playing and acoustic of Potton Hall in Suffolk, that has been the home of so many fine chamber recordings in recent years, add to the overall enjoyment. This is a fine ensemble, which could perhaps have gone on to further fruitful explorations of Enescuís chamber works.

Octet for strings, Op. 7 (1900) and Dectet for winds, Op. 14 (1906)

Though just six years separate their composition, musically these works are worlds apart. The octet uses the forces famously employed by Schubert, though Enescu sets himself different challenges in outlining the thematic material for the work within the opening bars.

Recordings have tended to pair these two works, and most consist of chamber ensembles under a conductor. Mandeal, Andreescu, Baciu, Lascae and Constantin Silvestri (Electrecord) all offer versions.

The most individual version on disc is that conducted by Mandeal by some margin. He captures the fugue second movement and waltz fourth particularly wonderfully. Andreescu is rather too hard in sound quality as is Silvestriís mono sound, high on insight though it is.

For those after a version of the Octet without Mandealís edgy acoustic should try the version by the St. Martins in the Fields chamber ensemble on Chandos (CHAN9131), where the recording works in their favour. A slight oddity, but superbly executed, is the string ensemble arrangement by Leonid Desyatnikov from the Kremerata Baltica (Nonesuch CD 7559 79682-2). In my view it is best to stick with Enescuís original scoring.

The more compact and knotty problems of the Dectet are also well handled by Mandeal, with an unusually characterful wind grouping drawn from the Bucharest Philharmonic. For those after an alternative, I would recommend one not listed above: the Oslo Philharmonic Wind Soloists on Naxos (8.554173). Coupled with DvořŠk and JanŠček, this swift reading of Enescuís work is lively, luxuriant and atmospheric. But Mandeal is a firm recommendation musically and interpretationally for both works.

Miscellaneous concert-pieces

This has always seemed an obvious recording in waiting to me, gathering together of several shorter works and presenting them as a group. So far the potential has not been recognised. To be fair, there might be a tendency to see these as merely chippings from the masterís workbench, but several are worth more than the occasional hearing they have received. Three of the most prominent are discussed here.

"Torso" sonata for violin and piano

Displaying rhythmic complexity, a lyric and fluid sense leads to some loss of shape, with the movement falling under a weight it cannot sustain. The only recording remains that by Adelina and Justin Oprean on Hyperion (CDH55103), and is worth considering being at mid-price with the second and third violin sonatas.

Nocturne and Saltarello for cello and piano

Viviane Spanoghe and Andre de Groote on Classic Talent (DOM 2910 79) offer the only available version, insightfully played and in good sound. Your acquisition of this disc will rest more on wanting the cello sonatas, with which they are coupled.

"Légende" for trumpet and piano

A work that has long attracted great trumpet players, this work suggests something more than its parts, and any more than adequate performance brings this off. Versions by Marsalis and Håkan Hardenberger achieve some of this. The real thing is delivered by John Wallace on EMI (CDC5 55086-2) in a version that does suggest something otherworldly, wondrous and mysterious that would perhaps prompt the listener to append the title, had the composer not provided it.

Piano solo

Suite 1 "in the ancient style", Op. 3 (1897)

Suite 2, Op. 10 (1903)

Suite 3 "Pièces impromptus", Op. 18 (1915-16)

Piano sonatas 1, (2) and 3, Op. 24 (1924, 1926-31, 1934)

Piano writing was integral to Enescuís compositional output, and indeed it can still surprise me just how demanding his writing is, even though he was an accomplished pianist. Recently prefacing a performance of the third violin sonata Leonidas Kavakos drew as much attention to the piano part as the violin.

In considering available recordings there are limited options. It has always surprised me that more companies have not explored this repertoire, even within Romania. One work, the Variations for 2 pianos, Op. 5 (1899), still awaits its first recording.

Of the recordings available there is an imported 3CD set featuring Cristian Petrescu (Accord 204422) that includes all the pieces listed here. Until recently this was the only choice and drew wild enthusiasm or derision from Enescu lovers. To my mind, I find Petrescu a sloppy pianist; his accord playing can be off and he is none too careful in regarding the minutely specific markings that Enescu laboured long and hard over.

Luiza Borac has spectacularly redressed the balance with regard to the three suites on her Avie recording (AV0013) [review]. The first suite, composed at age 15, shows Enescuís already masterful assumption of the baroque style Ė with Bach and evocations of earlier master to the fore.

The second is in a similar idiom, though more advanced, and displays a knowledge or Chopin and Fauré too. Entered anonymously for a competition, whose judges included Debussy, Hahn, and Cortot, Enescu won the Pleyel prize for best piano piece. There are also fragments from both works played by Enescu and Dinu Lipatti on a valuable Electrecord issue (EDC 430/431), that give special insights, albeit in far from ideal sound.

Of the three suites the last is the most individual, consisting of seven pieces, which point the way to the later style Enescu was to adopt. The last two movements, particularly in Boracís recording, are atmospheric beyond belief with their evocation of church bells, the beautiful harmonics and rapt attention it demands of the listener.

Anyone after the piano sonatas complete will have to settle for Petrescu at the moment, though Borac will hopefully soon provide an alternative. It is one of the great questions that went with Enescu to the grave: what was his second piano sonata like? Never written down, Enescu repeatedly claimed the work was fully formed in his head Ė but due to the pressures of performing and other compositions never made it to paper, hence my bracketing the number in the listing above.

Dinu Lipattiís recording of the third sonata shows just what is lacking from Petrescuís account. Despite the slightly boxy sound, Lipatti creates miracles in his handling of light and shade in the first movement and the following Andantino. The connection of pianist with composer and unswerving belief in the work comes through constantly. Add to this, a second-to-none account of the third Chopin sonata, some Liszt, Ravel and Brahms, and the EMI issue (7243 5 67566 2 5) should find itself leaping onto the shelves of every piano-music lover.


Three songs on texts by Lemaitre and Prudhomme, Op. 4 (1897)

Seven songs on texts by Clement Marot, Op. 15 (1907-8)

Three songs on texts by Fernand Gregh, Op. 19 (1915-6)

Miscellaneous lieder on texts by Carmen Sylva (w.o.o.)

Enescuís songs are jewels intricately set. As far as any of them are performed outside Romania, the Clement Marot songs have become an occasional feature of recital programmes, and show Enescuís sensitivity to the French texts. A number of recordings have been forthcoming too, though sadly Enescuís own recordings of the Marot songs in which he accompanies Constantin Stroescu or Sophie Wyss remain unavailable.

Commonly available versions include two on Arte Nova, one an orchestral arrangement conducted by Mandeal. Both arrangement and conducting are sensitive to the mood established by the piano in the original scoring, but tenor Florin Diaconescu might not be to all tastes, with his tight, nasal tone. However, he characterizes well, particularly in what I think of as being the Ďmaleí songs.

The other Arte Nova version (74321 92777 2) features soprano Elena Mosuc accompanied by Sabine Vatin, in a programme that includes lieder by Chausson, Debussy and Fauré alongside ten contemporary Romanian composers. This is a well sung and recorded disc, recorded in the Enescu museum, Bucharest, using Enescuís baby grand piano. Highly recommended. Other notable versions include pairings of Ileana Cotrubas and Geoffrey Parsons (Chandos, nla), and Sarah Walker with Roger Vignoles (Unicorn-Kanchana, DKPCD9035). Both are worth searching for.

Baritone Dan Iordachescu partnered by Valentin Gheorghiu give a dramatic and idiomatic interpretation on Electrecord (EDC 433), and offer them within the context of other songs in French and German Ė giving the best overall presentation of Enescuís song writing on disc.

A recent radio broadcast by soprano Sally Matthews, and performances by tenor Marius Brenciu indicate possibilities for future recordings. Were I planning one I would following the example of Eliot Gardinerís Berlioz ĎLes Nuits díétéí recording on Apex, and match voice type to the need inferred by the text on a song by song basis, mixing singers of all registers.


As I complete this survey of recordings, I am conscious of how far music promoters have still to go in Enescuís cause if he is to be one Ďof the great discoveries of the twenty-first centuryí (Menuhin). During this (2005) of all years the Proms failed to programme a single work, and with a season theme centred around the sea, a piece like Vox Maris could have proved an interesting Ė indeed much needed - counterpoint to Debussy.

True, music students and other ensembles occasionally perform chamber works. Just the other night Enescuís third piano sonata played to an all but deserted Purcell Room. The night of Enescuís death saw Vlad Maistorovici thrillingly play Ysayeís third sonata (dedicated to Enescu), and Enescuís own second and third violin sonatas as part of a memorial concert.

Only the second and third symphonies have been heard in Britain within recent years, while Oedipe still awaits its staged UK premiere. The professional performance mantle has lain largely with adventurous violinists programming works on the back of recent recordings.

When it comes to assessing Enescuís standing as a composer, and the current situation with regard to performances, I can do no better than quote Cristian Mandeal:

"He belongs firmly to the great creative artists of the twentieth century. [Ö] Some, like JanŠček, Sibelius, Szymanowski, Mahler even, took a while to enter the public consciousness and Enescuís time really has yet to come. This is just the beginning.Ē

The future prospects are thrilling indeed.

Evan Dickerson

Part II: Enescu the performer: violinist, conductor and pianist


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