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George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Symphony No. 4 in E minor (1934, orch. completed, Pascal Bentoiu, 1996) [35.36]
Nuages d'automne sur les forêts (c. 1935 unfinished) [8.30]
Chamber Symphony, Op. 33 (completed 1954, assisted by Marcel Mihalovici) [18.03]
NDR Radiophilharmonie/Peter Ruzicka
rec. 2013/14, Kleiner & Großer Sendesaal, NDR Hannover, Germany
CPO 777 966-2 [62.32]

The CPO label continues its survey of George Enescu symphonies and orchestral works with this release featuring the world première recording of the Symphony No. 4 completed by Pascal Bentoiu. The first orchestral release consisted of Symphony No. 5 and symphonic poem Isis in performing versions by Pascal Bentoiu. They were played by the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern under Peter Ruzicka (review). For this new release Ruzicka conducts the Hannover-based NDR Radiophilharmonie.

With his music known more by reputation than actual concert performances Rumanian-born Enescu, a contemporary of Bartók and Stravinsky, is one of the most unfairly neglected composers of the last century. The booklet notes for this release suggest that this relative disregard might be due to Enescu being seen outside Europe as a composer of “folkloric inspiration” rather than a symphonist. During his visits to the USA, Enescu made his reputation as a conductor. In Europe he was probably better known as a violin virtuoso. From my experience the Enescu works most likely to be encountered in performance are his pair of Romanian Rhapsodies with the first being the more popular of the two. In recital I have heard the String Octet two or three times also one of the two String Quartets over a decade ago. The Piano Quintet is occasionally performed.

Enescu’s Symphony No. 4 in E minor was written in 1934 and although fully sketched out he only managed to complete the orchestration of the first movement and a small section of the middle movement. Over sixty years later in 1996 fellow Rumanian composer Pascal Bentoiu completed the score’s orchestration. On occasion I was reminded of the sound-world of Szymanowski. Often squally and changeable in quality the relatively lengthy opening Allegro appassionato feels serious and determined, full of contrasting ideas and broad dynamics. Stylish and lighter-scored, the Un poco andante, marziale movement contains bursts of dance elements - all of a rather haunted quality. I was also struck by the expressive charm and positive feelings of the Finale which is Ibert-like and in the manner of Escales and Divertissement.

Composed around 1935, the fragment Nuages d'Automne sur les Forêts (Autumn Clouds over the Woods) forms part one of Enescu’s projected symphonic suite Voix de la Nature (Voice of Nature). This is a heady, atmospheric work of contrasting moods. It's evocative of changing nature scenes, of scudding clouds and unsettling storms. The fragment breaks off suddenly at point 8.30.

Enescu scored his Chamber Symphony, Op. 33 for twelve instruments: flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, violin, viola, cello, bass and piano. It was written in 1954 while Enescu was living in Paris. Some authors say Enescu was able to complete the score himself, however, others say he was left paralysed by a stroke and dictated some of the music to his friend the composer Marcel Mihalovici who acted as his amanuensis. Cast in four movements, the opening movement of the Chamber Symphony feels like a fusion of the pastoral and the melancholic, always stylish with reasonable appeal. The Allegretto has a bubbling, bright and optimistic character with brief dreamy episodes concluding with vivid splashes of colour. Plaintive trumpet calls dominate this short Adagio. The trumpet again enjoys prominence in the Finale before it is swallowed up by the other instruments.

Under Peter Ruzicka’s baton the NDR Radiophilharmonie plays splendidly throughout. Intelligently Ruzicka maintains a focused intensity and a firm control over the shifting rhythms in all their complexity. In the Chamber Symphony the ensemble plays with an engaging unity and with some impressive solo contributions. The clarity, presence and balance of the recording are as good as one has come to expect from this source. The music of Enescu continues to captivate here with performances that demonstrate its use of colour and rhythmic character.

Michael Cookson



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