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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Sonata No.2 in A major, BWV1015 [18:32]
Violin Sonata No.4 in C minor BWV1017 [16:27]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Octet in F major, D803 (1824) [40:26]
George Enescu (violin)
Céliny Chailley-Richez (piano)
Ulysse Delecluse (clarinet); Georges Alès (violin); Fernand Oubradous (bassoon); Gaston Marchesini (cello); Jean Devémy (horn); Henri Moreau (double bass)
rec. live, 4 March 1951 (Bach), Studio RTF, Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française: 1 March 1951 (Schubert), Salle de l’ancien Conservatoire, Paris. Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française
MELOCLASSIC MC2028 [75:26]

The second release devoted to surviving French broadcasts made by George Enescu sees the great musician in the dual roles of soloist and ensemble player. His Bach discography is hereby expanded given the existence of these two Sonatas and it’s a rare opportunity to hear him in an expanded group performing Schubert’s Octet.

His solo Sonatas and Partitas have been reissued several times of late and the selfless and noble devotion paid to them by the ailing Enescu must compensate to some degree for his inevitable digital failings. The increasing ill health that he suffered took a terrible toll, and this January 1951 broadcast performance of the A major and C minor sonatas with a regular sonata partner of his, Céliny Chailley-Richez, reveals similar depredations. There is however that still-extant plangency of expression, that speaking directness of utterance that so ennobles his playing in, for instance, the opening Andante of the A major. Its succeeding movement shows only too graphically the many failings of technique and intonation, and though his tone has shrivelled since his pre-war heyday, and his trill in the third movement is essentially non-existent, he just about gets through the Presto finale. The companion sonata shows his resilience in the face of so many difficulties – in fact, given the circumstances, his playing is nothing short of heroic. It’s in these terms that one must view slow movements that he simply cannot sustain and that demarcate such a decline. This is the carapace of a once great reading. I suspect a lot of restoration work has been necessary. The sound is by no means excellent for the time but it is perfectly listenable and indeed more so.

Two months later Enescu joined colleagues for a performance of the Octet. One big question strikes me straightaway: who is the violist? None is mentioned either in the track listing or the booklet’s otherwise valuable listing of Enescu’s French radio discography from 1948 to 1954. This includes his appearances as a violinist and also as a conductor.

There’s not much top to the sound but you get a real sense of the ensemble in this robust reading, shy of repeats, and with its attendant difficulties. One such is the spatially distant horn playing of Jean Devémy, who is somewhat wobbly in execution. Enescu is teamed with the experienced violinist Georges Alès, who made quite a few recordings on his own account. Fernand Oubradous is the distinguished bassoonist. The slow movement is played with warmth but there is bass frequency congestion at climaxes. That one omission still rankles, however; who is the violist?

No matter how vulnerable his health and his failing technique, surviving off-air Enescu performances are limited in number and the restoration of his French broadcasts is especially to be welcomed.

Jonathan Woolf



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