Enescu Festival 2019 – Michael Barenboim, Francesco Tristano, Sibiu Philharmonic Orchestra / Cristian Lupeş: Dediu, Basica, Widmann & Tristano

Michael Barenboim (violin), Francesco Tristano (piano), Sibiu Philharmonic Orchestra / Cristian Lupeş (above)

Radio Hall, Bucharest
Sunday 15th September 2019 (1pm)

Dediu Elegia minacciosa, Op.161 (2017)
Tristano Island Nation (2016)
Widmann Violin Concerto no.1 (2007)
Basica Concerto for Conductor and Orchestra (2019) [World premiere]

Review by Richard Whitehouse

Cristian Lupeş has enjoyed a long association with the Enescu Festival as both conductor and administrator, and now combines these roles in his activity with the Sibiu Philharmonic. This afternoon saw him directing the orchestra for a wide-ranging programme, given as part of the festival’s ‘Music of the 21st Century’ series, which demonstrated Lupeş’ ability to secure a committed response in music that makes few concessions either technically or interpretatively. The outcome was a programme which fascinated, provoked and frustrated to an equal extent.

Provocation was the watchword in Elegia minacciosa by Dan Dediu (b1967), the most prominent Romanian composer of his generation. Emerging almost imperceptibly, this short if eventful piece assumes an increasingly ominous demeanour – not least through allusions to Satie from solo piano (hence the subtitle con Gnossienne-Mandala), then the explosive interjections of bass drum heard from behind the auditorium. A piece whose poly-stylistic connotations could easily result in fragmentation and diffuseness here sustained powerful cumulative momentum through to its atmospheric yet unresolved conclusion. Lupeş evidently had the measure of this ‘threatening elegy’ as he secured playing of verve and commitment from his forces, leaving this listener keen to experience the piece again – albeit in an appreciably different context.

Not that hearing Island Nation was time wasted, though this concerto by Francesco Tristano (b1981) impressed more in the freely extemporised nature of its solo part and the composer’s magnetic realization of this than for intrinsic musical content. Most involving was its central movement The Islanders, with what sounded like an amplified metronome pulse providing the basis for an accumulation of orchestral activity – capped by piano playing channelled into a cadenza both pensive and, in its Parsifal allusion, equivocal. Otherwise, the energetic outer movements offered energy aplenty in their manufactured post-minimalist idiom, the orchestra matching the soloist (a distinctive exponent of Bach as of numerous 20th century composers) in immediacy of response. Great for first impressions, though not much of actual substance.

By comparison, what is now the First Violin Concerto by Jörg Widmann (b1973) is audibly within a lineage of mid-20th century European modernism – specifically that of Berg, whose own concerto proves a touchstone in many respects. Indeed, it seemed at times as though this latter work’s opening Andante had been extended into a whole work – such was the inward and self-communing nature of Widmann’s own piece, with its virtually continuous solo part heard against orchestral writing of exquisite textural nuance yet little rhythmic or expressive variety. The former had a formidable exponent in Michael Barenboim, playing with audible finesse and a frequently mesmeric concentration such as provided the ‘thread’ around which the orchestra wove a hardly less committed response – with Lupeş assured in his direction.

What to make of Concerto for Conductor and Orchestra by Constantin Basica (b1985)? This evidently arose from its composer’s investigating the interface of neurology and technology at Stanford University (and which interested readers can peruse at length on the composer’s website). The work, though, gave all the appearance of a spoof with its presentation of a lengthy film where composer and scientist discussed their researches, during which the orchestra was presided over by Lupeş – clad in an eco-friendly ‘Tarn-helm’ as his physical gestures were apparently transmuted into the real-time musical responses from his players. Trouble was, the sonic element was no more than a generalized backdrop that culminated rather too predictably with a brief burst of audience participation.

Whatever else, this was an entertaining way to round-off a demanding programme to which the audience responded with enthusiasm. Quite what it said about Basica’s music is another matter, but the composer played a central role in both performance and film while enacting the ‘mad scientist’ accordingly. Lupeş directed proceedings with aplomb: he clearly has an effective rapport with the Sibiu orchestra, and one looks forward to their appearance at this festival in 2021 – hopefully in an equally diverse though musically more consistent concert.

Further listening

You can hear more of the music of Jörg Widmann, including the Violin Concerto no.1, in first class performances on the disc below:

Meanwhile Francesco Tristano‘s most recent album Tokyo Stories can be heard here:

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