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Georges Enescu - The Columbia Recordings (1929)
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème, for violin and piano, op.25 [15:36]
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)
Sonata in d minor, No. 12, ‘Folia’ [8:37]
Gaetano PUGNANI (1731-1798)
Largo (Sonata No. 3) [3:19]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Tempo di minuetto [3:35]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Sonata in D major, Op.1/13 [14:03]
Georges ENESCU (1881-1955)
Violin Sonata No.3 in A minor, Op.25 [22:39]
Georges Enescu (violin)
Sanford Schlüssel (piano)
Céliny Chailley-Richez (piano: Enescu)
rec. 1929, 1950 (Enescu)
OPUS KURA OPK2086 [68:56]

Several weeks ago I reviewed Georges Enescu’s complete traversal of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. By 1949 the violinist’s technique was showing signs of strain, hampered by the health problems that afflicted him. Despite this, I was more than won over by the nobility, conviction and profundity of his interpretations. Turn the clock back twenty years and we can hear the great violinist in his prime. These Columbia recordings were set down in 1929 and they have added value in that Enescu visited the recording studio very rarely in the role of violinist.

I totally concur with Tully Potter, the contributor of the liner-notes, that the Chausson Poème is Enescu’s finest recording. Through the background crackle, the violinist’s rich, warm, vibrant tone emerges incandescently. His vibrato is flexible and intensely expressive, and his phrasing natural and spontaneous. The technical challenges, including some fiendish double-stopped passages, are met with consummate ease. Also notable are the ecstatic climaxes he achieves, savouring fully the lush, exotic character of the music.

Corelli’s ‘Folia’ variations range from the capricious to the raptly intense, with Enescu’s ornamentation thoroughly convincing. The Pugnani Largo carries a graceful simplicity and beguiling charm. In the Kreisler he makes the best of a tediously uninteresting piece. With so much to choose from, I wonder what made him opt for this? On the other hand, the Handel Sonata is a delight. The opening Adagio is ardently etched, and the third movement Larghetto is likewise sensitively sculpted. The finale is spirited and uplifting.

For the later recording of his own Violin Sonata No.3 in A minor, Op.25, the violinist teams up with Céliny Chailley-Richez. The pair recorded several times together, including Beethoven’s Kreutzer and Schumann’s D minor Sonata which can be found on Opus Kura (OPK 7009). They also set down the composer’s own Sonata No. 2 in F minor. These were made courtesy of Don Gabor and Remington. The recording here is sourced from a private LP, dated 1950; no other details are given. An alternative Romanian Radio recording exists from 1943 which the violinist made with pianist Dinu Lipatti. Though Enescu is on better form technically, the sound quality, certainly on my Dante issue (HPC091/2), is considerably inferior to this later airing.

The performance of this rhapsodic canvas is highly individual, the violinist employing his very personal portamenti. He achieves some unusual violinistic effects such as whistles and glissandi, and his harmonics have a luminous purity. Both players have a singular view of this complex score, and imbue it with a spontaneous gypsy feel. The savage ending is brought off to perfection.

The 1929 Columbias have previously been issued by Biddulph (LAB 066). Their 1992 release is now deleted, but it turns up on occasion in the second-hand market-place. Comparing their transfers with these from Opus Kura, the more recent Japanese re-masterings are marginally cleaner and quieter, with the violin tone having added vibrancy. What a shame that their care and attention didn't extend to proof-reading the cover which, as you can see, says "Gorges Enescu". Biddulph have included four acoustic sides from 1924 and the third sonata is the version played by his pupil Yehudi Menuhin partnered by his sister Hephzibah.

These are inspirational recordings from a true musician. Admirers of great violin playing will surely want this release on their shelves.

Stephen Greenbank

Evan Dickerson's detailed survey of Enescu's recordings as performer



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