George Enescu: Complete Works for Violin and Piano, Vol. 2

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George Enescu: Complete Works for Violin and Piano, Vol. 2
Remus Azoitei, violin
Eduard Stan, piano

Label: Hänssler Classic
Catalogue number: CD 98.240
Recorded: 14-17 March 2006
Recording location: Radio Bremen Studio, Germany
Violin: 1699 Antonio Stradivari “Kustendyke”, courtesy of the Royal Academy of Music
Piano: Steinway & Sons D, Hamburg

GEORGE ENESCU (1881 – 1955)
Sonata No. 3 in A Minor for Piano and Violin, Op. 25 “In Romanian Folk Character“ (1926)
25:10
1
Moderato malinconico
8:24
2
Andante sostenuto e misterioso
8:34
3
Allegro con brio, ma non troppo mosso
8:14
4
Ballade (1895)
4:39
5
Impromptu concertant (1903)
5:17
6
Andante malinconico (1951)
2:26
7
Tarantelle (1895) *
4:10
8
Hora Unirei (1917) *
2:06
Sonata No. 2 in D Major for Piano and Violin, Op. 2 (1897)
24:08
9
Allegro vivo
7:27
10
Quasi adagio
9:03
11
Allegro
7:38
Total Time
69:35

If it is possible to the reader to imagine a man with an encyclopaedic mind which never forgot anything he heard, or read, or saw in the course of his lifetime and could recall instantaneously and play in the most incandescent way any work from Bach, Wagner to Bartók; if the reader could imagine that mind allied to the most generous and selfless of hearts in a human being with a nobility and beauty of build, of presence, romantic in the lineaments of his face, and always propelled by a creative genius whether in speaking, teaching, conducting, playing the violin, the piano, and, very particularly, in composing, the image would still not be complete; a man full of humour (and a most amusing caricaturist) as well as deep philosophy, conversant with the languages and literatures of Europe and England, a man imbued with the highest forms of chivalry and fundamental earth-loving patriotism – this would be the teacher I had …”– This moving plea from Yehudi Menuhin, found in his preface to the first Englishlanguage book on Enescu (“George Enescu – His Life and Music” by Noel Malcolm, published 1990 by Toccata Press), is only one of many authentic testimonials of astounded contemporaries who keep the memory of this Romanian composer’s genius.

The second and last CD in the world’s first recording of Enescu’s complete works for violin and piano contains not only two sonatas, but also several shorter works. The Ballade of the precocious fourteen-year-old, composed in Paris in 1895, appears in the form of a small, perfect pearl in three parts. Its dramatic middle section contrasts with the inspired violin cantilena of the outer parts, whose accompaniment is modeled on the Baroque basso continuo style. The Tarentelle was written in the same year and is recorded) here for the first time together with the Hora Unirei. The first is an unpublished work, of which fortunately a copy of the manuscript exists, and appears to capture the spirit of the youngBrahms cloaked in the chorale-like B section ofEnescu’s music. The Hora Unirei of 1917 (“hora”is a Rumanian peasant dance) exhibits none ofthe peculiarities of Enescu’s other compositions, who at this time had completed two symphonies and orchestral suites, among other works, and had already anticipated elements of his later style in the innovative Carillon Nocturne.

It was in Parisin 1903 that he wrote his Impromptu concertant,a piece of that genre of “morceaux de concours”which Enescu also dedicated to other instruments(Concert Piece for viola, Légende fortrumpet, Cantabile et Presto for flute, AllegrodeConcert for chromatic harp). The title and theperformance instruction “chaleureux” (warmly)are very aptly chosen for this expertly interwovenimprovisation, in which the two instrumentsentwinewith each other like an arabesque enwrappedin the magic of post-Romantic harmony.Although the works of his youth lay but a few years back, it is more closelyrelated to the nostalgic Andante malinconico of 1951, which Enescu composed as morceau de déchiffrage for a sight-reading competition at the Paris Conservatory. This moving, melancholically enmeshed, even mystical adieu with a fin de siècle character is the composer’s farewell to the genre of violin and piano, as if he had a premonition of his death from Bechterew’s disease four years later.

The First Violin Sonata, dated 1897, is the first of five major compositions (three sonatas, a torso sonata and the Impressions d’Enfance) and one that is not very representative of Enescu’s work. Nonetheless, this first-born violin sonata by the sixteen-year-old composer already reveals a masterly handling of form. His early instruction at the Vienna Conservatory is bearing its first fruits, as is his study of Beethoven’s sonata form, and Enescu effortlessly integrates a sweeping fugato into both the second and third movements, as if in homage to Bach. However, the highly virtuoso piano setting, riddled with tremolos, resembles the piano reduction of a symphony more than a sonata. Thus one feels reminded of the Sturm und Drang in the early piano sonatas of his third model, Brahms (“Brahms, Bach and Beethoven – my gods!”).

Enescu’s Third Violin Sonata, subtitled “dans le caractère populaire roumain” (“in Romanian folk character”), is his most frequently performed work after the two Romanian Rhapsodies and was already recognized as a “prophetic masterpiece” (Bernard Gavoty) in the composer’s lifetime. As in the case of the Impressions d’Enfance (1940), what is striking about this sonata, published in 1926, is the graphic aspect of the score, which Menuhin considered to be the “greatest achievement in musical notation” of the time.
Quite rightly, Enescu expert Pascal Bentoiu notes that the musical translation of these “graphic wonders” opens up a world of sound whose variety and majesty had hardly ever been reached in any other work of the violin/piano genre at the time the composition was completed. One of the reasons for this is the way both instruments are used as a medium for portraying other spheres of sound, so to speak. For instance, the piano suggests Romanian folk instruments for long stretches of time, such as cymbal, lute and pizzicato double bass, and the violin, in the birdsong episode in the middle of the second movement, imitates those musicians (“lautari” in Romanian) who themselves imitate birdsong when playing the violin (Dinicus’ lark – Romanian “ciocarlia” – calls a greeting from the tavern, you might say), just as the high point of the first movement in the piano is based on a gong. The hypnotic effect of the piano’s repeated unisons and fifths in the second movement, conjuring up the constant chirping of crickets on a summer’s night (beginning) or the monastic pounding board calling the faithful to prayer (monotonous arpeggios of fifths) was unheard of.

Moreover, the violin personifies a poignant vox humana at the dramatically decisive points of the composition. Just listen to the thematic octave sequences at the high point of the second movement, and especially human lamentation of that final drama of the soul, which abruptly puts an end to the “dance festival” in the third movement. Furthermore, not only is the notation of the quarter-tones for the violin fascinating, but also the unique ornamentation in this music, its mythical-narrative dimension (the work begins with a parlando-rubato “once upon a time …”, if you will) and its improvisational character, which stands in apparent contradiction to the detailed precision of the notation. After so many surprises, a close analysis of the score reveals what may well be the biggest surprise of all in this composition: none of the elements I have just mentioned are used as an end in themselves, but are instead all integrated into a majestically proportioned and dramatically ingenious sonata form. Every single movement, as well as the sonata as a whole, relates an existential drama built around a recurrent theme – picking up all manner of enchanting blossoms along the way, as if en passant … This prime example of originality also possesses a deeply personal note thanks to being inspired by Romanian folklore, yet at the same time it is firmly anchored in the foundation laid by the great composers of the Western formal tradition.

A touch of racy Romanian fire in this appealing violin-and-piano repertoire

“All five miniatures showcase the refined but vibrant performing style of Remus Azoitei, a distinctive player whose sound world echoes Enescu’s own … Azoitei’s pianist Eduard Stan is memorably supple in terms of both rhythm and touch, vital attributes in the last and greatest of the violin works, the Third Sonata, with its tricky transitions, complex but spirited dance sequences and fiery climaxes, especially in the finale. Azoitei and Stan combine temperament, mastery of idiom and executive elegance in a very special way. They shape the music beautifully, so that what in some hands sounds like mere extended improvisation (a desirable attribute admittedly) also parades discernable form.

The five larger works all come off exceptionally well. Regarding the folky and atmospheric Impressions d’enfance I’ve previously written in these pages … Azoitei’s playing is less “breathy” (than Lupu’s) but no less sweet, he gives the impression of controlled rhapsodising, and so does his pianist … The Third is a must-have masterpiece that the Torso Sonata in A minor (1911), a work that approaches Chausson’s Poème in scale and expressive power, clearly anticipates. Again, the performances are richly responsive and tastefully phrased, the recorded sound excellent. So if the repertoire appeals, no need to look any further: This is a first-rate collection.“

Rob Cowen, February 2009
GRAMOPHONE

“Passionate violin melody and lucid piano bravura penetrate the grey haze of the tape’s rustling: In a historic recording of 1943 published by the label Dante, the violinist and composer George Enescu plays his Second and Third Violin Sonatas accompanied by the legendary pianist Dinu Lipatti. Already seven years previously, Enescu’s pupil Yehudi Menuhin and his sister Hephzibah had recorded this Third Sonata in A minor op.25 for EMI, with the subtitle “dans le caractère populaire roumain”. For these works at least then, the Romanian artists Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan have authentic predecessors in the first recording of the entirety of Enescu’s chamber music for violin and piano. The first instalment, with the „Impressions d’enfance“, the Moderato movement of a perished sonata as well as the second Sonata, is already in existence (F.A.Z of 21. April 2007). The second album now adds to the entire recording and begins with Sonata No.3.

Menuhin had in his time lamented that “nobody takes the trouble to read exactly what he (Enescu) has written”. In his autobiography “Unfinished Journey” he describes this exactitude as “the note transformed into living message, the razor-sharp, meaning-laden phrase, the musical structure awakened into life”. He had learnt exactly this with Enescu. The sonata no. 3 in A minor (1926) now confirms in exemplary fashion Menuhin’s practise-based observation of Enescu’s unusually information-dense style. For the interpreters it implies the following: not only are fussy musical markings to be considered, but the layering of improvisatory excursions and clear formal structure, of free folk-musical gesture and artful bridling of expression must be also be mastered.

Similarly to the Menuhin siblings and the Enescu-Lipatti duo, the violinist Remus Azoitei and the pianist Eduard Stan master these balancing acts with an eminent sense of tonal colour and much understanding for Enescu’s Romanian soul. In the “moderate malinconico” of the A minor sonata, they recover a tension-laden consistency from the rhapsodic swerves. In the middle movement, the “doina”, the melancholy aurally-transmitted Rumanian song melody, is invoked. In the harmonics of the violin, which imitate a shepherd’s flute, as well as in the rigid repeated notes of the piano, suffering and loneliness are expressed. With its “parlando-rubato”, its asymmetrical rhythms, modal tonalities and highly ornamented melody, the dance-like Final-Allegro suggests the Rumanian folk music tradition. But in none of the three movements has Enescu cited the native idiom; he invented it anew in the spirit of transmission – and the technically sovereign musicians immerse themselves completely in this “mothertongue”, with fire as well as refinement.

On one level, the five single works of the second album are not as atmospherically coloured as the “Impressions d’enfance” on the first. Nevertheless, they allow us to trace Enescus musical development, from the still entirely romantic “Ballade” (1895), with magical violin cantilena in the outer parts and contrasting drama in the middle section, to the sparse late style of the “Andante malinconico” of 1951. Two pieces are world premiere recordings: the “Tarantelle“ of 1985, which storms ahead breathlessly and with high virtuosity, and the rhythmically pointed „Hora unirei“ of 1917, a Romanian peasant group dance.

The recording ends with the first violin and piano sonata in D major op.2, composed by the 16-year-old Enescu. Despite all structural consciousness of form it sometimes still sounds awkward. This expresses itself in the piano-reduction-like, tremolo-interspersed piano part as well as in the somewhat demonstrative fugal scholarliness in the second and third movements. Enescu opposes this homage to Bach with reminders of Brahms – a further one of his “gods” alongside Bach and Beethoven – in the secondary theme of the first movement as well as in the third movement. And yet the three-movement work captivates, from its first, mighty bars with a quite individual, unpredictable energy in the outer movements. It finds its mysterious counterpart in the rapt violin melody of the Quasi Adagio.

Azoitei and Stan relentlessly and always with control kindle the „holy fire“ (Menuhin) of this early creation. The ending becomes the bombshell effect of the recording, which, aside from the more well-known third sonata, also offers rarer material worth discovering. George Enescu, this universal musician, whom Menuhin experienced as a “being like a volcano”, ”far erupting in thoughts and deeds”, would “perhaps only in the 21st century be able to assume the place worthy of him”. Thus conjectured Menuhin in a talk for the “European String Teachers Association”, extracts of which were printed in the “ESTA-News” of March 1994. Possibly these complete works are now a step in exactly this direction.”

Ellen Kohlhaas, 13 September 2008
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG – Germany

“Now the final CD of the first entire recording is also here: again Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan congenially hit upon the sound idiom of the Romanians. Moreover, the works, created from 1895 until 1951, document Enescu’s complete developement.”

Dr. Johannes Saltzwedel, November 2008
DER SPIEGEL – Germany

“In a hypnotic account of the Third Sonata, Azoitei and Stan demonstrate complete empathy with the quasi-improvisatory nature of the writing. Superb playing also in the Brahmsian First Sonata.”

Author not indicated, February 2009
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE
(rated 5/5 stars for both performance and recording)

“…The duo strikes a stunning balance between sheer Romanticism and harmonic clarity, clearly guiding listeners not only through each individual movement, but through the maturation of Enescu’s works as a whole. Azoitei’s tone is warm yet powerful and focused, with an impressive breadth of colours at his disposal. Stan is not only a sensitive accompanist (essential for the somewhat uneven composition of the first sonata), but a powerful soloist when taking on the melody. Hanssler’s sound is intimate and clear.“

Mike D. Brownell, November 2008
ALLMUSIC, UK