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George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor, Op. 25 'dans le caractčre populaire roumain' (1926) [23:45]
Impressions d'enfance for violin and piano, Op. 28 (1940) [22:36]
Violin Sonata No. 2 in F minor, Op. 6 (1899) [20:40]
Impromptu Concertant in G flat major for violin & piano (1903) [5:20]
Duo Brüggen-Plank
rec. 2018 Jesus-Christus-Kirche Berlin-Dahlem, Germany
GENUIN GEN19642 [72:31]

Enescu was an important violinist as well as a major composer, but his works for violin and piano with opus numbers are limited to his three Sonatas and the ten-movement suite Impressions d'enfance (Childhood Impressions). So this compilation by the Duo Brüggen-Plank (the violinist Marie Radauer-Plank and the pianist Henrike Brüggen) has a logic even though these works cover a forty-year span. As a composer he was both modernist - although never subscribing to either serialism or neo-classicism - and folklorist, much influenced by the rhythms and harmonies of Romanian folk music.

The Third Violin Sonata was written in 1926 at a time when Enescu was finishing his major work, the opera Oedipe. The sonata was very successful and become an important work in the critical literature, and the most popular of Enescu's works after the two Romanian Rhapsodies. Enescu's pupil Yehudi Menuhin made a recording in 1936 with his pianist sister Hephziba, and the composer himself recorded the work twice, the second in 1943 with his godson Dinu Lipatti. Despite its subtitle 'dans le caractčre populaire roumain' (in Romanian folk style) it is not based on any real folk tunes, but deploys original folk-like material, in the manner of some works of Bartok. The violin writing often recalls a gypsy fiddler, as the writing for piano resembles the cimbalom.

The first of the sonata’s three movements, titled Moderato malinconico, does indeed have a melancholic flavour. There is little immediate sense of a classical sonata allegro, though there are contrasting thematic groups, a recapitulation and a hint of the two-part rhapsody in traditional lassú–friss pattern in the way material changes from its lyrical origins to dance patterns. This makes it all sound more elusive than it is maybe, for attractive folk elements are very evident from the start, the tiny grace notes, small grupetti and arabesque shapes make the violin part sound quasi-improvised and flexible.

Duo Brüggen-Plank capture this persuasively and explain in the booklet note that paradoxically, it is by following the composer’s “detailed instructions regarding rhythm and dynamics as well as articulation” that they end by “reproducing the free and colourful as well as seemingly improvised manner in which Enescu himself played the work”. So they clearly consulted Enescu’s recording as well as the minutiae in the score to get to the authentic feel of this performance. The opening of the following Andante sostenuto e misterioso is indeed mysterious, with its obsessive repeated single note for piano and glassy harmonics for the violin, while the finale dances along towards its thunderous thumping close.

The earlier 2nd Sonata is not quite as original perhaps, though it would be hard to say who else it sounds like, for the folk element is already there. Though Ensecu was still a student in Paris when he wrote it, it is well worth hearing. The Duo Brüggen-Plank bring a sustained intensity to the impressive first movement, and catch a whimsical flavour in first part of the middle movement, which though marked “Tranquilement” rises to a brief but passionate climax which is far from tranquil. The finale, marked “Vif “, has a drive and cumulative energy derived in part from Henrike Brüggen’s concentration in her playing of the repeated chords in the piano part. In these players’ hands it is difficult to believe that the work is one from the composer’s late ‘teens.

The Impressions d'enfance (Childhood Impressions) is a suite for violin and piano from 1940 consisting of ten short pieces. The chronology of the pieces covers the course of a day, and here too the music is strongly influenced by Romanian folklore. There are pauses between nos. 1 and 2, and between nos. 3 and 4, but the other movements are connected. Each piece has an evocative or descriptive title, beginning with "Ménétrier" (The Country Fiddler)
and ending with "Lever de soleil" (Sunrise). The composer gave the first performance with
Dinu Lipatti – they also made a radio recording which it seems is lost. No matter, for it it is so evocatively performed here that one imagines that even those first performers can hardly have sounded better, so attractive is this playing. That opening Country Fiddler item (the longest of the suite) is for violin alone, and shows off Marie Radauer-Plank’s wide variety of tone – she is surely a finer player than any country fiddler Enescu ever heard! "L'Oiseau en cage et le coucou au mur" (The Bird in the Cage and the Cuckoo on the Wall), the fourth number, has some nice onomatopoeic effects, with whistling violin harmonics that sound as if a real bird call had been smuggled on to the recording. The suite closes with an impressive sunrise and it all ends up sounding rather more than the sum of its ten parts.

This excellent recital closes with the charming Impromptu Concertant in G flat major, a lyrical diversion which makes an attractive sign-off. The Duo’s booklet notes focus on the context and the background to the music, with some interesting observations on the music itself, and the well-balanced sound serves the performances well. One for both the Enescu enthusiast, and for all explorers of the violin and piano repertory.

Roy Westbrook

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