Enescu Festival 2019 – Peter Donohoe, Muntenia Philharmonic Orchestra Daniel Jinga: Bentoiu, Lipatti & Enescu Symphony no.5

Andrei Lazăr (tenor), Peter Donohoe (piano), Acoustic Chorus (women’s voices), Muntenia Philharmonic Orchestra / Daniel Jinga (above)

Trade Unions’ Cultural Centre, Târgoviște, Romania
Friday 13 September

Bentoiu Suite ‘Ardelenească’, Op.6 (1955)
Lipatti Concertino ‘en style classique’ Op.3 (1936)
Enescu (compl. Bentoiu) Symphony no.5 in D major (1941)

Review by Richard Whitehouse
Photo credit (Peter Donohoe) Sussie Ahlburg

A welcome facet of the Enescu Festival, the Concerts in Other Cities schedule could easily be overlooked owing to distances involved in this sizable country. That said, a day in Târgoviște is eminently feasible. Just 50 miles and a 90-minute train journey from Bucharest, it features several historic buildings (notably the Chindia Tower) that can be visited prior to an evening concert – on this occasion, by the Muntenia Philharmonic Orchestra with principal conductor Daniel Jinga. A quick online perusal suggests the majority of their concerts are of a popular or ‘crossover’ nature, making their playing in this programme of unfamiliar and technically demanding compositions the more impressive – not least in as unsparing an acoustic as the main hall of Trade Unions’ Cultural Centre (a scaled-down version of London’s Barbican).

It may be a relatively early work, but the Transylvanian Suite finds Pascal Bentoiu utilizing folk elements within the context of an already distinctive idiom. Each of its four movements draws on music from a region of Transylvania, and Jinga secured a lively but always flexible response from his musicians for a piece in the lineage of Bartók’s Dance Suite or Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsodies. Surely the most significant post-war Romanian symphonist, Bentoiu had from the start an innate command of the orchestra as was scintillatingly in evidence here.

Peter Donohoe (above) then took the stage for Dinu Lipatti’s Concertino in the Classical Style. Most of Lipatti’s larger-scale pieces are from the period before his playing career took precedence, with this Concertino typical in its synthesis of folk melodies with a neo-classical idiom closer to Hindemith or Ravel than Stravinsky. Modest in their dimensions these may be, Donohoe rendered its four movements with deft insouciance and poise, as heard to advantage against the modest instrumentation which abounds in contrapuntal ingenuity and harmonic finesse.

Impressed with the response of the players as of a near-capacity audience, Donohoe returned for substantial encores of Mozart’s Sonata in A minor then Ravel’s Alborada del grazioso – both of which feature in Lipatti’s select discography and given here with engaging vitality.

The second half brought a rare hearing for Enescu’s Fifth Symphony. Substantially drafted over summer 1941 but left in abeyance with its first movement largely orchestrated, it was Bentoiu who undertook a full realization during 1995-6 of what he considered the composer’s requiem for himself.

The first movement centres upon that endlessly evolving melody which was made possible by Enescu’s conception of heterophonic texture – the music afforded its momentum via acutely differentiated timbral layers that coalesce into an unlikely but audible sonata design. Its successor recalls the folk-inflected poignancy of the Suite Villageoise, now with a fatalistic undertow that comes to the fore in the ensuing Vivace which brings the only rapid music of the whole work. Essentially an adjunct to the finale, this culminates with the finale’s gaunt opening theme – the latter movement then unfolding as a funeral march whose valediction is transcended in the setting of Mihai Eminescu’s poem Mai am un singur dor -emerging not as a contrives apotheosis but an organic culmination of all that has gone before.

A combination of the dry ambience with acoustic enhancement meant that Andrei Lazăr was balanced too forwardly against the orchestra, yet he sang with great eloquence (not least his unaffected parlando in the closing lines) – the women’s voices of the Acoustic Chorus adding an ethereal halo to those closing stages. Jinga instilled real forward motion into the opening movement, then brought out the wistfulness and anguish of its two successors. Whether here or in the radiant aura of the finale, his instinctive feel for this piece could hardly be gainsaid.

Make no mistake, this was an enterprising programme in which the Muntenia players was on occasion hard-pressed but rose to its challenges with commitment and enthusiasm. Hopefully orchestra and conductor will secure themselves a concert in Bucharest at the 2021 edition of the Enescu Festival, yet anyone visiting the capital two years hence should certainly consider spending a day in Târgoviște – a compact and appealing city, while hardly an inappropriate place for a first live encounter with the last as well as most elusive of Enescu’s symphonies.

Further listening

You can listen to Pascal Bentoiu’s completion of Enescu’s Symphony no.5 in a CPO recording released in 2014. Marius Vlad is the tenor soloist, with the NDR Chor and Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken-Kaiserslautern conducted by Marius Vlad:

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: