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George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Cello Sonata in F minor, op. 26 N° 1 (1898) [40.43]
Cello Sonata in C major, op. 26 N° 2 (1935) [35.27]
Maria Aneculaesei (cello)
Jan Michiels (piano)
rec. November 2004,at Studio Steurbaut, Belguim.
QUALUNQUE 5411499 09022 [76.11]



For a composer whose worldly fame during his lifetime was as a violinist, Enescu’s two cello sonatas have proved popular on disc, this being the fourth pairing I know of – and it came to my attention via the MusicWeb Bulletin Board.

The first factor that stands out is the relative playing time of the disc – it comes at anywhere between three and nine minutes longer than alternative versions. Ilea/Licereţ on Olympia/Electrecord and Zank/Sulzen on Arte Nova, I would class as the front-runners. I do not see much wrong with a more expansive and lyrical view of Enescu’s writing, which is what you get here, but in overall terms the drama of the works is not so much negated as painted on a smaller scale. For some, particularly if used to the more punchy interpretations listed above, this may take a little getting used to.

However, this does not mean the works are entirely without dramatic contrast as played here. Take the opening of the first sonata, punchy piano chords announce a strong opening to which the cello responds, later proceeding to moments of inner repose before joining the piano again in an extended lyrical song of simplicity (in the cello line) accompanied by the piano with great feeling. The connecting passages are perhaps a little more tentative than with other performers, but Enescu’s writing can take it. The lighter of foot section that follows is given with tenderness, although here as before the piano tone seems prominently placed within the recording. When things pick up tempo and dynamic again a greater presence to the cello line would have been welcome, though this is not for lack of trying on the part of Maria Aneculaesei.

Of the version on Arte Nova (74321 54461 2) featuring Gerhard Zank and Donald Sulzen, I wrote in June 2005:

“Were it not for the music, and the lively interpretations and singing line of Zank’s 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.”

Since then I have become better acquainted with the Ilea/Licereţ on Olympia/Electrecord, and although I find the pianism of Nicolae Licereţ more moving, I must confess Sulzen still has the finer instrument. All of which shows what Jan Michiels is up against here, but he copes gainfully, producing power and restraint,as the music demands, with ease. Restraint – the starting point of all crescendi – is felt and thrillingly delivered in the first sonata’s third movement.

The second sonata stands out even amongst the works of Enescu as something of sophistication and individuality.  It starts with extended soulful simplicity (at least on the outside) before proceeding to an allegro agitato that the composer spoke if in terms expressing “liberation, sincerity and courage”.  As a bearer of these values for the Romanian people nowhere are these more felt in his cello writing than the powerfully evocative Final à la Roumaine, which holds a path parallel to that of his third violin sonata in inspiration.  Following as it does the Andantino, scored to begin with for solo cello, the effect is truly one of emotional release, and many Romanians I know say how these passages touch on something almost indefinable in the national psyche.

Befitting this moving music the performance it receives here shows honesty in tone, and a certain apt fragility too. That leads to growing confidence and feeling that underlines the powerful sentiments Enescu sought to capture in sound.

Evan Dickerson


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