I spent a lovely evening at the Romanian Cultural Institute‘s Enescu Society on Thursday. They have a series of concerts in the L-shaped salon of their beautiful ambassadorial house in Belgrave Square, all of which tend to feature the work of Georges Enescu. It’s a wonderful way to listen to music and highly recommended.
The other night my friends Philippe Graffin and Claire Desert played the socks off a programme that included Enescu’s vivid Impressions d’enfance, alongside Schumann’s Sonata No.2, Ravel’s Sonate and Tzigane and Schubert’s Fantasie in C major. Their recording of the Enescu is on In the Shade of Forests on the Avie label.
If you’ve been reading this blog/JDCMB for a while you’ll know that Enescu is one of my all-time heroes. Composer, violinist, pianist, he was a pupil of Faure and a classmate and duo partner of the young Ravel; back in Bucharest later he married Maria Rosetti – the Princess Cantacuzino via her first marriage – and lived in an art nouveau mansion in the heart of the city, which is now a museum.
His music has certain qualities in common with other Faure students such as Koechlin, Schmitt and Ravel himself: a richly exploratory harmonic language, a vital sense of individual personality that’s grown from his own roots, and demands that stretch both the instrument and the performer in all manner of new musical directions, technically and – most vitally – in terms of colour and nuance.
Enescu was equally astounding as violinist, pianist and composer, to which add conductor and professor/guru to such violinists as Grumieux, Ferras and of course Menuhin, whose adoration of him made him into something of a cult figure. This is rare.
So why don’t we hear more of his legacy? I can’t help feeling that his musical personality is so tied up with his native Romania that we’ve tended to feel that something remains oddly alien to us – like an unfamiliar blend of flavours laced with a lot of paprika, perhaps. But the more one hears it, the more rewarding it becomes. I hope one day to have a chance to hear his opera, Oedip.
As I didn’t get round to Friday Historical yesterday, here’s a Saturday one instead: Enescu and his friend and fellow countryman Dinu Lipatti perform a movement of Enescu’s Sonata No.3 for Violin & Piano ‘on Popular Romanian Themes’. Or so called – actually they are all pure Enescu, but they evoke the style of the local Gypsy violinists so strongly that Yehudi Menuhin once commented that if you follow the markings accurately, you can’t help but sound like a real one.
It’s hard to be a crusader for a dead composer when there isn’t an anniversary to kick around and I am 5 years too late for the 50th anniversary of his death. But I’m having a go anyway. I hope you enjoy the recording.