Violin Concerto in A minor (1896)
Phantasy in D minor (1896/8)
Carolin Widmann (violin), Luiza Borac (piano), NDR Radiophilharmonie / Peter Ruzicka
Producer Elisabeth Kemper Engineer Daniel Kemper
CPO 555 487-2 [53’32”]
Recorded 25-28 May 2021 at Grosser Sendesaal, Landesfunkhaus, Hannover
Written by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
CPO continues its coverage of little-known Enescu with this coupling of two pieces from the composer’s teenage years, persuasively rendered by leading performers and with a conductor second to none through his expanding the orchestral output of a still under-appreciated figure.
What’s the music like?
Although not his ‘breakthrough’ year, 1896 was a significant one for Enescu in terms of those compositions he at least attempted. He was not yet 15 when premiering the first movement of a Violin Concerto whose Andante was not played and its finale likely never written. Even so, the audience must have been surprised and even a little bemused at the audacity of a teenager who opened with an Allegro moderato rivalling those of the Brahms and Beethoven concertos in its scale and intent, and one whose technical display is secondary to its weight of argument.
Enescu having relocated to Paris after seven years in Vienna, evidence of competing aesthetic influences is not hard to discern – with Brahms the audible precursor of that Allegro, down to the climactic entry of the soloist after a lengthy opening tutti, then a (self-written) cadenza as serves a formal rather than virtuosic purpose. Despite being considerably longer than that of the Brahms, the Andante looks more to French antecedents – notably the Third Concerto of Saint-Saëns whose siciliano profile it utilizes, but not a tendency for pronounced expressive contrasts that is exemplified by the rhythmic impetus of its alternating episodes. Exactly why Enescu never completed this work is uncertain, yet if he felt its influences too obvious, such derivativeness need not be a barrier to appreciation or enjoyment of these movements today.
Enescu unlikely had any knowledge of the Violin Concerto that Busoni was writing at much this time, yet the former’s Phantasy has a tangible aura of the music his older contemporary was then writing. Witness the stealthy introduction as surges forth into the main movement, its alternation of genial assertiveness and ironic rumination itself a Busonian trait, as too the close-knit integration between soloist and orchestra or the subtle ambiguities of its harmonic writing. CPO’s booklet note gives 1898 as the date of composition which other sources give as two years earlier, but there is general agreement that its (only) performance took place at Bucharest in 1900. By then Enescu had written his first undoubted masterpieces, the Second Violin Sonata and Octet for strings, and no doubt felt the piece suffered through comparison.
Does it all work?
Yes, on its own terms. The rapidity with which Enescu evolved as a composer meant he soon left behind the influences as are audible here, which does not make either of these pieces any less worth hearing or merely for enthusiasts. Carolin Widmann is classy casting in the Violin Concerto, articulating its lengthy structures with no mean artistry, while the Enescu specialist Luiza Borac (most recently heard in in the torso of a Piano Concerto from the same period on Profil Hänssler) ensures a cohesion in the Phantasy without limiting its imaginative qualities.
Is it recommended?
Indeed, not least when the recording is unexceptionally fine and Volker Tarnow’s annotations are unfailingly informative. Hopefully CPO and Ruzicka will further their Enescu exploration with the Second and Third ‘School’ Symphonies or sundry orchestral pieces from this period.
You can discover more about this release and make a purchase at the Presto website. For more information on the artists, click on the names for Carolin Widmann, Luiza Borac, Peter Ruzicka and the NDR Radiophilharmonie