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Enescu VC 5554872
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George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Violin Concerto (1896) [33:09]
Phantasy for Piano and Orchestra (1898) [20:23]
Carolin Widmann (violin), Luiza Borac (piano)
NDR Radiophilharmonie/Peter Ruzicka
rec. 25-28 May 2021, Grober Sendesaal, NDR Hannover, Germany
CPO 555 487-2 [53:33]

Enescu seems to have left more unfinished works than anyone since Schubert. There are various contributory factors to this: first, his busy life as a travelling violin virtuoso; then, his perfectionism, which is apparent if you look at one of his scores; and finally, his wife, who seems to have suffered from a mental illness. However, he seems to have taken a number of works to the point of complete drafts or short scores. In recent years a number of musicians, notably Pascal Bentoiu and Cornel Tăranu, have put them into performable shape, and the conductor Peter Ruzicka, supported by the record label CPO, which has long championed Enescu, has recorded them. Their largest achievements are Enescu’s last two symphonies, numbers 4 (review ~ review) and 5 (review ~ review). They have now turned their attention to the beginning of Enescu’s composing life.

Both the works here are teenage compositions. Enescu wrote the first two movements of the violin concerto at the age of fifteen and achieved a performance of the first movement in 1896. The second movement was never performed until now and he never wrote the finale. It is perhaps less surprising that he never completed the concerto than that he never attempted another. Only Sibelius, among other composers of the time, was also a violinist. This work is very much in the spirit of Brahms, who had greatly impressed the young Enescu. As with the Brahms violin concerto, there is a long tutti before the violin enters, and when it does so, it has flourishes like those in the Brahms, only more of them. There are two more main themes but, strangely, no development section. Not surprisingly in the work of a young composer, there are echoes of other composers, notably Beethoven and Schubert, but I was particularly struck by the delicacy of the orchestration, lighter than that of Brahms and showing a natural feeling for orchestral colour. The Andante, although attractive, is also somewhat unsatisfactory in that it relies too much of a particular repeating motif. Perhaps Enescu realised this, became dissatisfied with the work and so did not continue with it.

The Phantasy for piano and orchestra dates from a couple of years later and was written for a colleague who played it in concert two years afterwards. It is one of those single movement concertante works which were popular when concert programme were more miscellaneous than they have become. It is not unfinished, only unpublished. Again, the spirit of Brahms is evident, particularly that of the first piano concerto, the texture of which work Enescu obviously studied. Also, surprisingly, one can hear the influence of Liszt in the bravura writing for the piano. There is more contrapuntal writing than in the violin concerto and there are some surprising choices of keys.

The performances here are admirable. The violinist Carolin Widmann has a busy career as a soloist and here plays the Enescu concerto as if it were a repertory masterpiece. Luiza Borac brings to the piano Phantasy not only an accomplished technique but also a thorough knowledge of Enescu, on whom she has written a dissertation. Peter Ruzicka and his orchestra play with a will and the sound is fine. The booklet is helpful. This recording is perhaps only for Enescu completists, but as one myself, I am glad to have it.

Stephen Barber
Previous review: Christopher Little

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