George ENESCU (1881–1955)
Childhood Impressions
Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Major, Op. 2 (1897) [22:00]
Violin Sonata No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 6 (1899) [19:40]
Impressions d'enfance, Op. 28 (1940) [22:02] (No. 1. Ménétrier; No. 2. Vieux mendiant; No. 3. Ruisselet au fond du jardin; No. 4. L'oiseau au cage et le coucou au mur; No. 5. Chanson pour bercer; No. 6. Grillon; No. 7. Lune a travers les vitres; No. 8. Vent dans la cheminée; No. 9. Tempête au dehors, dans la nuit; No. 10. Lever de soleil)
Stefan Tarara (violin)
Lora Vakova-Tarara (piano)
rec. 8-11 February 2016, Immanuelskirche Wuppertal

This is the second collaboration of the husband and wife team, the Tarara Duo, with ARS Produktion. Last year they released a CD entitled The Sound of the Twenties which featured a performance of Enescu’s Third Violin Sonata, plus a blend of other sonatas by various composers from the 1920s (review). Here we have Enescu’s two earlier sonatas paired with Impressions d'enfance, Op. 28, written forty years later.

The composer was only 16 when he penned his Violin Sonata No. 1 and I’m amazed how accomplished and adroitly executed it is. Generous on melody and clearly showing the influence of Brahms, it’s a model of imagination and flair. Skilful polyphonic writing is also a compelling element. The duo launch themselves headlong into the energetic opening movement with commitment and panache. There’s drama and passion aplenty in their confident sense of abandon. Yet it is the slow movement that I enjoyed the most. Stefan Tarara achieves some ethereal sonorities in the ghostly opening measures, supported by some eerie tremolos on the piano. The finale is uplifting, with the players investing it with energy, vigour and joie de vivre, before bringing the work to a thrilling conclusion.

Two years later Enescu embarked on his more compositionally advanced Second Sonata, Op. 6. Strikingly more mature, the composer seems to have come on by leaps and bounds in the meantime. Jacques Thibaud, the dedicatee, premiered the work in 1900. Tinged with French Romanticism, not only was César Franck clearly an influence in the cyclical trajectory that runs throughout, but Fauré is also a pervading presence. As well as making formidable demands on the violinist, the piano writing is virtuosic. The Tararas step up to the mark with distinction. In the second movement, marked Tranquillement, I am won over by the way the pianist darkens the chords in the first few bars, accompanying the violinist’s plaintive utterances. The third movement Vif is rendered in a joyous vein with propulsion and drive.

The suite for violin and piano Impressions d'enfance op. 28 ('Childhood impressions') was composed in 1940 and dedicated to the memory of Edouard Caudella, the composer's first violin teacher. It was his first major work during the war years. Set in ten brief movements, the shortest is only 21 seconds, the longest 31/2 minutes. A technically demanding piece, it tests the mettle of any performer. In it the composer recalls his earliest memories, from lullabies and birdsong to storms and sunrises. I was quite surprised that the suite has had several outings on CD as I have never heard of it before. On careful scrutiny I could detect echoes of Szymanowski, yet throughout Enescu’s Rumanian roots are not too far away. The Tararas' account is both idiomatic and imaginatively nuanced. In the opening Ménétrier (The fiddler), the only piece for solo violin, Stefan Tarara’s tone is powerful and focused, and he negotiates the technical hurdles with aplomb. With immaculate intonation, he evokes the music’s gypsy character to effect. Lora Vakova-Tarara’s delicate, shimmering cascading notes in No. 3 truly bring Ruisselet au fond du jardin (The stream at the bottom of the garden) to life, and the violinist’s cuckoo impression in No. 4 couldn’t be more convincing. Equally impressive is his Vent dans la cheminée (Wind in the chimney). Lever de soleil (Sunrise), the final piece, is beautifully managed in its rhapsodic seductiveness.

In state-of-the-art sound, the balance between the two instruments is ideal. Immanuelskirche Wuppertal is a sympathetic acoustic adding warmth and intimacy in good measure. The Tararas, who I would wish to hear more from in the future, have done these works proud. I regret not having caught their earlier volume.

Stephen Greenbank

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