George Enescu: Complete Works for Violin and Piano, Vol. 1

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George Enescu: Complete Works for Violin and Piano, Vol. 1
Remus Azoitei, violin
Eduard Stan, piano

Label: Hänssler Classic
Catalogue number: CD 98.239
Recorded: 6-9 December 2005
Recording location: Radio Bremen Studio, Germany
Violin: 1718 Antonio Stradivari “Maurin”, courtesy of the Royal Academy of Music
Piano: Steinway & Sons D, Hamburg

GEORGE ENESCU (1881 – 1955)
Impressions d’enfance for Violin and Piano, op. 28 (1940)
22:23
1
Fiddler
3:27
2
Old Beggar
3:03
3
Stream at the Bottom of the Garden
2:47
4
The Bird in the Cage and the Cuckoo on the Wall
2:17
5
Lullaby
1:44
6
Cricket
0:25
7
Moonlight through the Window
2:34
8
Wind in the Chimney
0:22
9
Storm outside, at Night
2:11
10
Sunrise
3:33
Sonata in A Minor for Piano and Violin (“Torso” Sonata, 1911)
11
Moderato
16:28
Sonata No. 2 in F Minor for Piano and Violin, op. 6 (1899)
22:08
12
I. Assez mouvementé
7:52
13
II. Tranquillement
6:48
14
III. Vif
7:28
Total Time
61:34

George Enescu (1881–1955), far from being only Romania’s most important composer, is one of the most colourful musical personalities of the twentieth century. A real citizen of the world motivated by humanistic ideas and a patriot at the same time, he was born in the North-East of his native country but educated in Vienna and Paris, where his extraordinary talent already became apparent at a young age. Pablo Casals considered him “the greatest musical phenomenon since Mozart”, and the Viennese press enthused about the “little Romanian Mozart”, who was admitted to the Viennese Conservatory at the tender age of seven. Enescu’s genius unites a great composer, an inspiring conductor (he was offered the position as Toscanini’s successor in New York), one of the most prominent violinists of his time, a highly esteemed pianist (whose piano technique Alfred Cortot envied), a caricaturist who wielded a formidable pen and a selfless supporter of young colleagues. His pupil Yehudi Menuhin said in a reverent judgement that “Enescu remains for me the most extraordinary human being, the greatest musician and the most formative influence I have ever experienced”.

Enescu’s legacy for violin/piano fills two CDs – besides five larger works including three Sonatas, a prodigious Sonata Movement and the “Impressions d’enfance”, there are also a few shorter ones, two of which have been recorded for the first time in this world premiere recording – and can be compared in terms of volume with that of Bartók. Here we should also consider the fact that no other composer since Beethoven has left behind a comparably significant oeuvre in this genre, as well as the fact that the golden age of the “violin sonata” was already long past. Hence the question arises as to why there has hitherto been no complete recording of these works of Enescu, a fact which can not be due to the quality of compositions, for they are obviously the work of a master. The problem of this music being so sparsely known has been aptly described by the composer and Enescu expert Pascal Bentoiu: “The musical information contained in all of Enescu’s major works is extremely dense. They are difficult, one might say too difficult for the requisites of musical performance in our day and age… They demand that their performers invest an extraordinary amount of time, work and effort – and most performers nowadays are in a great hurry. In brief, Enescu’s music demands from its listeners as well as its performers a loving approach, true devotion, a profession of faith, as it were. However, once you have pierced through its hard shell, the fruit at its core turns out to be incomparably sweet…”

Enescu worked on the violin/piano genre for more than fifty years. Leaving aside a few minor attempts at composition in early childhood (as far as manuscripts are concerned, it is difficult to build a definitive list of works), then our complete recording includes all Enescu works for violin and piano in existence. The selection of this first CD offers an exemplary overview: op. 6 written in 1899 and representing Enescu’s first stroke of genius, the so-called “Torso Sonata” dated 1911, and the “Impressions d’enfance” of 1940 with its seemingly modern style, a work which brings the program of major compositions to an end.

According to Carl Flesch, the Second Violin Sonatais “one of the most important works of all sonata literature, whose neglect is totally unjustifiable”. The mastery with which the 18 year-old Enescu constructs an incredible cathedral of sound in a manner of speaking, by concentrating on one core theme whose elements pervade the entire work, is first revealed in this op. 6. The opening theme is one of Enescu’s typical monodies, i.e. a long, metrically veiled unison full of chromatic pointers and poignant harmonic implications, where the influence of his teacher Fauré can be heard clearly. The first movement culminates in probably the most vehemently dynamic climax ever heard in a duo sonata. The second movement is also in F minor, a wistful lullaby with the character of a “doina” (a plaintive pastoral, which for Romania is like a treasure of its national culture heritage)of moving intimacy and nostalgia. The attacca transition to the finale is ingenious: the violin reflects in solitude on the melody of the movement and flows into two fifth chords reminiscent of Debussy, chords which serve as a bridge to the third movement. This has the character of a Bourrée, contains several elements of folklore – there are long stretches during which the piano imitates a gipsy cymbal, for instance – and it unites themes from all the movements. The sonata fades away with the very opening unison theme, now in a different meter and in the key of F Major.

The weighty Sonata Movement in A minor has been nicknamed by the Romanian composer Tudor Ciortea as the “Torso Sonata”, due to the fact that the body of Enescu’s manuscript suddenly breaks off one page into the beginning of a second movement (andante espressivo). His colleague Wilhelm Berger refers to the work as the “Small Sonata” and holds it to be a direct predecessor – a sort of preliminary study – of the famous Third Sonata op. 25 “dans le caractère populaire roumain”. There are stylistic parallels linking the two works, from the key of A minor and the related opening themes, to the wildly escalating drama in their final sections. The “Torso” Sonata appears to be a large tone poem in an epic-rhapsodic idiom, borne by the “parlando rubato”, so typical of Enescu. Although undeniably reminiscent of Brahms in its thematic development and piano writing technique, every page of the score breathes Enescu’s originality and personal signature.

In the Impressions d’enfance, the composer takes a very personal look at his childhood in a Romanian village. The parallel to Schumann’s idea in “Scenes from Childhood”, where childhood is likewise reflected in an adult’s mirror, is striking. This masterpiece of Enescu’s late style is a challenge to every publisher and printer, because the score contains a plethora of details related to the performing techniques and interpretation. The Impressions have the character of a suite whose images (Fiddler, Old Beggar) and scenes from the composer’s memory (Stream at the bottom of the Garden, The Bird in the Cage and the Cuckoo on the Wall) melt into a seamless, artistic unity. Its philosophical core is found in the Lullaby, the very heart of the suite (startlingly similar to the Sonata op. 6!), whose interweaving motifs influence the rest of the composition. Elements of the Lullaby appear inparticularly radiant guisein the finale, Sunrise, so that the tension arcs from the dusk of evening (Lullaby, Cricket) to the darkness of night (Moonlight through the Windows, Wind in the Chimney, Storm Outside, at Night) and back again to the light. Just like his friend Ravel in his introduction to the Tzigane, Enescu takes up the motif of the itinerant minstrel in the opening tableau of his Impressions. This miniature is the equivalent of a tonal self-portrait, one which personifies in music his own fate and restless life.

Sunrise – Finely woven: Violin sonatas by George Enescu

“Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan, who in this fabulous recording present the first of two instalments with works for violin and piano, follow Enescu’s guidelines in exemplary manner. They shun all that is upfront and are always prepared to transport their virtuosity into pianissimo.”

Christiane Tewinkel, 21 April 2007
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG – Germany

“This recording … presents performances that sound so different from others of Enescu’s music that I went back to the scores to check exactly what I was hearing. As I will point out, it transpires that other recordings have a variety of fatal flows, whereas the newcomer is faithful to both the letter and the spirit of the compositions … On this Hänssler Classic recording, Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan do the things the others don’t. What is more, they realize with absolute inevitability the pull of destinity that is within every bar of Enescu’s climactic “Sunrise“. This alone is a massive achievement in the realm of Enescuvian interpretation.

The Torso sonata is given an incandescent reading that positively bursts forth with energy from this genuine musical partnership. Stan’s piano-playing provides imposing forward momentum and adroitly pointed contributions throughout. Azoitei understands far more than Adelina Oprean (Hyperion) that this music is built on an improvised rhapsodic feeling held within the confines of sonata form. I wonder why Enescu’s second sonata is not central to every duo’s repertoire, when it can be performed on the level of evidence here. Playing of élan brings out the long sinuous lines of the first two movements, given with total tonal security and care for structure and dynamic gradation…

Azoitei and Stan believe in this music wholeheartedly and convey its various aspects with such apparent ease that I find it impossible not to be totally carried along by it. In short, Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan perform with rare distinction to do Enescu proud. Consequently, in due course this recording should be a strong candidate for admission to the Classical Hall of Fame.”

Evan Dickerson, July / August 2007
FANFARE – USA

“Two of Enescu’s scintillating sonatas are included here, and in his compatriot, the Romanian-born violonist Remus Azoitei, he finds an ideal interpreter. Azoitei has all the requirements: marked sensitivity, a sweetness of tone (but not over-succulence), an impressive emotional and dynamic range, and the ability to sustain Enescu’s extended lines without making them sound laboured. Both sonatas are brilliantly, perceptively and subtly played…Azoitei is handsomely matched by pianist Eduard Stan, who reveals a fine gift of restraint and an instinctive feel for balance so as never to outweigh but always skillfully to shadow the violin soloist. Their conclusion of the central Tranquillement of no. 2 is quite magical.

However, the plum of this recording ist he suite Impressions from Childhood. Azoitei is masterly in catching the folk effects of ‚Fiddler’ (fine trills and double-stopping)…Stan is no less adept… Hänssler has done this recording proud every detail is caught to perfection.”

Roderic Dunnett, May 2007
THE STRAD

Kaleidoscope

“Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan, who both originate from Romania, prove themselves to be intimately familiar with this music and let themselves be carried completely by these moods, so that their technically perfect recording seems absolutely authentic: unforced, natural, involuntary, but under no circumstances arbitrary. The music seems almost to come into being as they play. Interpretational mastery! On the other hand, the recordings … demonstrate with what assured taste they can arrange and structure far reaching, labyrinthine musical developments, thus rendering them easily comprehensible. These are highly welcome extensions of the usual repertoire at an excellent interpretational level which make one curious about the continuation of these recordings.”

Giselher Schubert, July 2007
FONO FORUM – Germany

“Second Sonata … These are qualities to the fore in this assured performance, with Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan attentive to the interplay that gives the music its rhythmic suppleness… Heared as an ‚epic rhapsody’, the piece (Torso) convinces, not least when handled with this degree of conviction. Impressions d’enfance … Where this new account scores is in the sensitivity with which Azoitei and Stan suffuse poetic means with musical ends, sustaining the work’s inevitability through to its powerful closing chords. An enthralling reading of a vital masterpiece. It helps that the recorded sound is a model of how to balance instruments that all too often resist being combined… In short, a superb disc that makes the second volume the more keenly awaited.”

Richard Whitehouse, April 2007
INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW

“Romanian violonist Remus Azoitei … identifies completely with the music, responding to its every expressive turn with commitment. He surmounts the music’s technical challenges with such practised ease you forget they are there and focus on the music’s eloquent magic. Stan partners him sympathetically and with equal assurance. Together they explore every facet of these three remarkable works. Thanks are due to Hänssler, not only for a significant addition to the Enescu discography, but also for bringing this remarkably talented violin-and-piano duo to our attention.”

Mike Wheeler, 4 June 2007
CLASSICAL SOURCE

The Surprise

“The title of the rarities with which the first edition begins should be remembered such as much as the names of the exemplary interpreters: The “Impressions d’enfance” op. 28 and the “Torso Sonata” are captivatingly played by Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan. The two Romanians have that “parlando rubato” in their blood, and all imaginable means of expression in their grasp. One could not wish for a more authentic interpretation of this works steeped in folk music elements…”

Walter Labhart, May 2007
MUSIK & THEATER – Switzerland

“Their spectacular performance will undoubtedly be a challenge for all musicians trying to follow their path. We strongly recommend this CD, the first one of a cycle containing two CDs.”

SL (Autor), March 2007
MUZYKA21 – Poland

„“The first CD begins with the Fiddler for violin solo, masterly played by Azoitei, who blends refined playing with the liveliest energy. The glissandi, sometimes strong, sometimes only barely suggested, the purity of the fifths, the colour palette, the warmth and brilliancy of sounds brings us close to a possible self-portrait of the composer, as suggested by Eduard Stan in his notes to the CD…

The Old Beggar has a different feel … The piano here, as well as throughout the suite, creates a strong yet delicate support for the violin, ensuring a protecting space around the precious bird-like singing violin part … We can only wonder at how much work the two artists must have put in together to achieve such heights of both technical and artistic perfection!

Through the performance of these two Romanian artists, the 2nd Violin Sonata has been transformed from a school work (a piece which is normally the work horse of 2nd year students at the Bucharest Conservatoire) into masterpiece … Before Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan, I have never heard such a fresh and sensitive interpretation of the piece, despite the fact that they respect the score in the most rigid and traditional way! … The last movement, although fast (Vif), has the tranquillity characteristic of great players who never force their limits. The interpretation of the two Romanian artists not only captures the core of Enescu’s style and the specific atmosphere of each piece, but also encourages uss to discover new ways to understand it. As I was listening to Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan, feeling more and more moved, I imagined that Enescu himself was playing both on the violin and the piano at the same time.“

Dan Scurtulescu, April 2007
ACTUALITATEA MUZICALA – Romania

“Impressions d’enfance … This is a wonderfully balanced, sensuous and pictural work, and the two musicians, ideally matched, know how to illuminate every nuance of the ten character pieces. The second sonata, in any case, is an outstanding masterpiece of one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, and the two musicians, in spite of its difficulties, do it justice in every aspect.”

Carsten Dürer, April / May 2007
ENSEMBLE – Germany

“The performances on the disc are executed with panache, and a great sense of Enescu’s style. The performers’ fine musicality results in some very moving and expressive playing.”

Author not indicated, 26 February 2007
CLASSICAL MUSIC GUIDE

“… the sensitivity, the imagination and the poetry require to be served by grand virtuosity, and they are served just so by the two native Romanian performers.”

AL (author), June 2007
LA SCENA MUSICALE – Canada