George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Cello Sonata No.1 in F minor Op.26 No.1 (1898) [35:26]
Cello Sonata No.2 Op.26 No.2 (1935) [31:33]
Alexandre Dmitriev (cello); Alexandre Paley (piano)
rec. 23 July 2009, live, in concert, French Music Festival, Montpellier

Enescu’s Cello Sonatas are not necessarily the first place one would seek, in his chamber music, to find examples of his very best writing. The 1898 sonata, for instance, written when he was only seventeen is in many ways accomplished but it strikes a strangely obsessive note, the cello nurdling away, as if muttering to itself after an especially bad ticking off from the piano. Enescu works from small cells and this is also part of the problem, as the music proceeds in short intervallic motion, with introversion the prevailing ethos. True, the bumptious contrapuntalism of the Scherzando is a relief where we find a certain droll charm, enough to provoke the audience at this recital to burst into applause. The Brahmsian slow movement strives but ultimately fails to achieve anything memorable. The finale is gruff and gritty, not least in the fugal exchanges. The performance is certainly serviceable though sometimes lacking in subtlety. Occasionally the cello’s intonation wanders and the balance favours the piano at times when it should be more evenly heard.
The second sonata comes from much later, in 1935. This was a time of increasingly elusive harmonic writing for Enescu. The first movement is one of quest whilst the second movement, a terse Allegro, reprises the idea of tense angularity. Enescu seldom settles in this sonata, and things are always on the move. The best moments occur in the finale where piquant sonorities give a very individual slant. Extensive cimbalom imitations prove evocative, the cello glissandi adding a gypsy allure, and Enescu’s folkloric lexicon appears for the first time. The playing is certainly intense, even rather uncomfortably so.
The recording is somewhat over-dry and had it been left to me I’d have omitted the introductory applause as Dmitriev and Paley come on to the stage. This is a viable disc if you want both sonatas, because they’ve not been otherwise burdened with too many recordings, but my recommendation is cautious.
Jonathan Woolf

A cautious recommendation.

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