Classical CD Reviews
The Unknown ENESCU: Vol. 1 = soloists & Enescu Ens. of U. of Illinois – Toccata Classics
Published on December 16, 2012
The Unknown ENESCU: Vol. 1 = Aubade; Pastorale, Menuet triste et Nocturne; Sarabande; Serenade lointaine; Andantino malinconico; Prelude and Gavotte; Airs dans le genre roumain; Legende; Serenade en sourdine; Fantasie concertante; Nocturne “Villa d’avrayen”; Hora Unirei; Aria and Scherzo – Sherban Lupu, violin and cond./ Masumi Per Rostad, viola/ Marin Cazacu & Dmitry Kouzov, cellos/ Ian Hobson, Ilinca Dumitrescu, & Samir Golescu, pianos/ Enescu Ensemble of Univ. of Illinois – Toccata Classics TOCC 0047, 80:30 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
In a conversation with grand master cellist Janos Starker, I asked him which musicians gave him the most pleasure to read and to perform. “If you ask me what I read for pleasure, then I say any of the chamber works of Brahms,” he replied. “But if you ask me who was the most ‘complete’ musician, then I say Enescu.” George Ensecu (1881-1955), despite the popularity of some key works, namely the two Romanian Rhapsodies—offers a significant catalog of relatively obscure works, a gap violinst Sherbam Lupu (b. 1952) hopes to fill for the interested connoisseur.
Lupu and Ian Hobson open with the Aubade in C Major (1899), a work whose rocking geniality could be construed for Kriesler. Besides its folkish gait, the piece quotes the Romanian royal anthem, Traiasca regele, in homage to the very patrons who supported the young composer. Sherban Lupu arranged Enescu’s Pastorale, Minuet triste et Nocturne (1900) for violin and small string ensemble and piano. The bucolic sentiments might hint at Elgar. The first two sections proceed in a tender E Minor, subdued and indicative of that antique style that captivated Ravel for his Tombeau de Couperin. The carillon effects of the G Major Nocturne assume a decorative quality more in keeping with Romanian rather than French models. Enescu combines the Romanian ballade-style with his innate devotion to Bach in the c. 1912 Sarabande for Solo Violin, set in D Major but rife with bravura triple and quadruple stops that wander freely into various tonalities. Lupu gives us the piece’s first recording.
The Serenade lointaine (1903) may constitute the discovery that demands your purchase of this fine disc. Set in E Minor as a piano trio, the Faure-influenced opus is dedicated to the King and Queen of Romania for the wedding anniversary. A moody liquid sadness permeates the work, marked as it is by a sincere and simple beauty that disarms us on each hearing. Marin Cazacu’s cello tone makes fine points. Andantinio malinconico (1951) exemplfies in miniature Enescu’s late maturity in its modally angular melodic contour and subtle shifts in meter. Prelude and Gavotte (1898) confirm Enescu’s fascination with “olden styles,” here expressed in terms reminiscent of both Kreisler and Faure. Lupu and pianist Samir Golescu make a beguiling case for this watery clock-like piece, whose Prelude can suddenly erupt into passionate declamation. The Gavotte has a wry humor and peasant quality in its heavy accents. The middle section seems to pay homage to Beethoven of the E-flat Major Trio, Op. 70, No. 2.
Sherban Lupu goes solo again for the intricately lovely Airs dans le genre roumain (1926), conceived as a companion-piece to the Violin Sonata No. 3. The catalogue of lautari (fiddlers’ tricks) reveals itself in trills, glissandi, arco and pizzicato passages, harmonics, and angular gypsy melodies that pay no less homage to the Ysaye unaccompanied sonatas. In four sections, the first two in D Minor and the last two in D Major, the piece moves through a medley of moods until the final Andante giocoso, a kind of hora in perpetual motion. It seems amazing that Yehudi Menuhin never inscribed this work, and so Lupu becomes the first to do so. Legende (1891) is the earliest composition in this collection, a passionate elegy in A Minor by a nine-year-old Enescu who had been a student in Vienna. Serenade en soudine (1915) offers a duo in muted tones for violin and cello (Dmitry Kouzov). Dreamy and introspective, the G Major song moves Andantino et tres doux into a modal French space. Sherban Lupu took up and arranged the incomplete Fantasia Concertante (1932) for violin solo, whose musical syntax parallels developments Enescu reveals in his opera Oedipe. Chromatic and enriched by post-Impressionist sonorities, the opening in A Major plays like a long askew cadenza in the style of Ravel. The tessitura extends high into harmonics, occasionally polyphonic and dissonant, then careens downward into low double stops. The tension becomes reminsent of Bartok but still remains melodically wistful. What emerges is a significant work of expressive power and high polish.
The Nocturne “Villa d’Avrayen” (c. 1936) does celebrate the potent relationship between Enescu and his illustrious students, Yehudi Menuhin and famille. A piano quartet that likely included Hephzibah and Yaltah Menuhin and Pierre Monteux (on viola) among the original principals, the heavily Faure-sounding work could be the slow movement of a significant opus for the piano quartet medium. Mostly in C Major, the piece conveys a moody intensity in haunted tones, particularly over a C pedal. Masumi Per Rostad complements the present ensemble with his mellifluous viola. Ian Hobson and Lupu gingerly pace their way through the short Hora Unirei (“Hora of the Union”) of 1917. A patriotic moment, it captures the territorial ethos of Wallachia and Moldavia in the midst of WW I. Finally, Aria and Scherzino (c. 1898-1908) arranged by Lupu for violin, piano, and orchestra, an estimably melodic piece that opens in an Elgarian D Major and quickly segues to the B Minor Assez vif second half. Quick figures spiccato, tremolando, and in harmonics and double stops display the the solo’s bravura over the punctuations from piano and small ensemble. The diptych had been created for a competition of violin makers, so the writing means to exploit the instrument’s eminently expressive possibilities.