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George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Complete Works for Violin and Piano
Impressions d’Enfance, Op.28 (1940) [22:23]
Sonata in A minor (‘Torso’ Sonata) (1911) [16:28]
Violin Sonata No.2 in F minor, Op.6 (1899) [22:08]
Violin Sonata No.3 in A minor, Op.25 (1926) [25:31]
Ballade (1895) [4:58]
Impromptu concertant (1903) [5:32]
Andante malinconico (1951) [2:36]
Tarantelle (1895) [4:25]
Hora Unirei (1917) [2:25]
Violin Sonata No.1 in D major, Op.2 (1897) [24:08]
Remus Azoitei (violin)
Eduard Stan (piano)
rec. December 2005 and March 2006, Radio Bremen
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC 98.035 [60:59 + 69:35]

This is a truly admirable twofer that explores Enescu’s complete works for violin and piano. Complete, that is, unless and until some morceaux should turn up. Until then – and even then – admirers of the Romanian polymathic genius should seek out recordings made for Radio Bremen in 2005-06 and only now receiving commercial release.

The reason isn’t far to seek. Violinist Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan – the pianist writes the excellent booklet notes – form a formidably sensitive pairing and do justice to works that span the breadth of Enescu’s compositional life. They prove as resourceful in the late works as they do in the early ’prentice and salon-tinged ones.

The programming avoids a chronological survey though one could programme it as such with a bit of ingenuity – not that I think that’s a pressing matter. In any case each disc represents a single broadcast so this was how the duo approached things for Radio Bremen and that integrity has been maintained throughout the discs.

That means that the early so-called ‘Torso’ sonata shares the first disc with the 1899 Second Sonata, whilst the fully characteristic and much-loved Third is on the second disc with the First. Thus we have the full rich panoply of Enescu’s violinistic imagination available here. The Impressions d’Enfance of 1940 is a kind of Kinderszenen for the violin, a line he must have anticipated as soon as he titled it thus. The ten brief movements – some are Bartók-brief at no more than 20 seconds – are beautifully characterised and full of folklore, rich harmonies and in places - I’m thinking of the final movement – not too far removed from late Szymanowski. In another review I called it ‘a Joycean masterpiece of colour and incident, a single day in a child’s life recollected and compressed, ranging from gypsy fiddlers, beggars in the street, a shimmering water pool, cuckoo clock and crepuscular fall of night with its ominous storm.’ The stand-out is the fourth of the set, The Bird in the Cage and the Cuckoo on the Wall, with its bird impressions and compelling narrative including its passing neuroticism.

That ‘Torso’ Sonata of 1911 lasts sixteen or so minutes. It’s deliberately rhapsodic, and evokes the cimbalom in the piano part. I often wonder how Enescu would sound with a luthéal replacing the piano; too explicit possibly but interesting, The previous disc I mentioned, which paired Enescu with Ravel and Debussy, featuring Phillipe Graffin and Claire Désert, did feature the instrument in Ravel’s Tzigane on Avie AV2059. The ‘Torso’ is couched in post-Brahmsian language, powerful and exciting. The 1899 Second Sonata was written when he was just 18. It’s true that there are semi-digested echoes of Brahms and Franck, two composers with whose violin works, as a young virtuoso, he would have been very familiar. But the broad paragraphs, the expressive candour and the tensile strength of the writing are some achievement nonetheless. It’s easy to see why Carl Flesch lauded it, even though Flesch’s estimation that it was ‘one of the most important works in all sonata literature’ seems exceptionally high praise indeed.

The Sonata No.1, which actually ends the recital, being the last piece of the second disc, was written by a 16 year old confirmed Brahmsian. It is still very well constructed and shows hints of the harmonic complexities he was later to instil in his music. The Op.25 Third, is the masterpiece among the sonatas, and receives a fine reading here. Both men evoke the nature sound world in a way that is itself most natural-sounding, and the native vein of folklore fits persuasively into the syntax of their performance. Cimbalom imitations are at their apogee in the central movement where the birdsong imitations are ebulliently deployed by Azoitei. The spicy finale, with its rich cantilena and changes of texture and metre, is very exciting – as it should be in a good performance such as this.

The remainder of this disc is given over to smaller, youthful, or occasional works, none without interest. Usually one finds a raft of middling pieces in complete surveys such as this but Enescu was incapable of writing middling music. Thus you’ll find a most beautiful Ballade from 1895 with a glorious melody, interrupted by a brief but brusque B section before the reprise. The Impromptu concertant is an arabesque with a rich vein of lyricism whilst the Andante malinconico, the latest work here from 1951, was a competition piece for sight-reading use at the Paris Conservatoire. The Tarantelle has a frank quotient of late nineteenth-century bravura; hints of Brahms, and hints of Sarasate. Finally there is Hora Unirei of 1917, a peasant dance oblivious to any contemporary troubles.

The studio recording has been well-judged and doesn’t sound cold or distant. The performances, as already noted, are really first-class, and are alive to all the twists and turns in the music, keenly aware of the folkloric impulse throughout and touchingly tender when required. I want to hear more from this duo.

Jonathan Woolf