George Enescu Festival 2017 – Cristian Lupeş conducts contemporary works

Vassilis Varvaresos (piano), ‘Mihail Jora’ Philharmonic Orchestra – Bacău / Cristian Lupeş (conductor)

Radio Hall, Bucharest, Friday 22nd September 2017 @ 1pm

Măniceanu OEN (2015)

Hess Piano Concerto (2007)

Iorgulescu Signals (1993)

Glanert Frenesia (2013)

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

One of the most gratifying features in the current George Enescu International Festival was its emphasis on contemporary music, primarily through the Music of the 21st Century series. Alongside concerts and recitals, a programme of seminars (through the International Forum of Composers) featured composers from across Europe and the United States as to underline the essentially international character of this festival. One of these highlights was a concert by the ‘Mihail Jora’ Philharmonic Orchestra from Bacău with the conductor Cristian Lupeş.

Whatever else, Bacău has an orchestra of far from provincial standard. That this concert had been performed two days before did not account for the confidence with which these players tackled a demanding programme, opening with OEN by Mihai Măniceanu. Its title referring to transpositions of the octave (with a covert spatial element), this piece took in portentous unisons, strident outbursts, pointillist delicacy and modally inflected melodic lines across its eventful course, even if any greater continuity or momentum proved as inscrutable as its title.

Would Nigel Hess had shown any such ambition in his Piano Concerto, written in memory of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. This piece was as expected from one adept in music for film and TV – its three movements moving from the enervated charms of The Smile, via the Romantic blandishments of The Love (whose main tune might have given Claude François and Jacques Revaux pause for thought), to the martial strains of The Duty with its dutifully triumphal conclusion. A notable platform for the scintillating pianism of Vassilis Varvaresos (laureate of the 2014 Enescu Competition), who responded with Fantasie um Johann Strauss by Moriz Rosenthal as an uproarious encore and will soon take on the rather more rewarding assignment of Nikos Skalkottas’s Third Piano Concerto with the Basel Symphony Orchestra.

More Romanian music followed the interval. With its several dynamic sections separated by interludes of relative stasis, Signals by Adrian Iorgulescu unfolded with those ‘signals’ of its title audible at every level; with an emerging sense of that ‘greater whole’ such as sustained the work through to a virtuosic conclusion. The Bacău orchestra met its numerous challenges head on, duly motivated by Lupeş’s disciplined as well as perceptive direction to result in a gripping account of a piece that more than held the attention and was certainly worth revival.

Nor was Detlev Glanert’s Frenesia plain-sailing. Commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss, its complex yet enticing sound-world belied a formal trajectory which focussed this by no means always frenzied evocation of ‘modern man’ with its headlong energy but also thoughtful expectancy. Suffice to add the musicians were not outfaced by those of the Concertgebouw (whose premiere can be heard on the RCO compilation ‘Horizon 6’) in making the most of this showpiece with substance.

An impressive showing by the Baçau players as well as being a notable occasion for Cristian Lupeş, who had earlier enjoyed comparable success with the Sibiu Philharmonic in a Festival Square concert. A major engagement at the next Enescu Festival in 2019 must surely beckon.

For more information on the Enescu Festival, head to the festival website

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