George Enescu: Works For Violin & Piano
As the teacher of such prodigious violinists like Yehudi Menuhin, Christian Ferras, Ivry Gitlis, Arthur Grumiaux and Ida Haendel, George Enescu is widely celebrated as one of the world’s greatest violinists of his generation, a fine conductor and by far the most significant composer of his native Romania. The three works on this new recording by Daniel Rowland and Natacha Kudritskaya demonstrate the wide scope of Enescu’s musical language.
The Violin Sonata No. 2 was completed in 1899, following Enescu’s remarkable success two years earlier with his Poème Roumain, which had secured him overnight fame and the patronage of the Queen of Romania. It is a distinctive work, with a purposeful sense of unity and largely derived from its long, sombre and mysterious theme opening theme.
By contrast, the 1926 Violin Sonata No. 3 is inspired by the doina – a slow and melancholic song that embodies a particular character of Romanian music that Enescu described as: “Dreaming. And a tendency, even in fast sections, towards melancholy, towards minor keys”.
Composed 14 years later, the Impressions d’enfance is a deeply personal work that recalls Enescu’s own childhood – a solitary child, who hears a gypsy musician, encounters a beggar, a caged bird and a cuckoo clock, and such living creatures or natural phenomena he might encounter in the family’s garden.
Daniel Rowland has established himself on the international scene as a highly versatile, charismatic and adventurous performer, with a broad repertoire from Vivaldi to Ferneyhough. As well as appearing as a soloist, concertmaster and in his duo partnership with Natacha Kudritskaya, he is well-known as first violin of the internationally renowned Brodsky Quartet.
Natacha Kudritskaya studied in Kiev, first at the Lysenko School and then at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music. From 2003 she worked with the pianist Alain Planès at the Conservatoire de Paris and in 2007 she was admitted to the Conservatoire’s advanced course to study with Jacques Rouvier. In 2009 she was awarded the Grand Prix by the Safran Foundation for Music and featured on the Génération Spedidam program, and won first prize at the Vibrarté International Music Competition and the Robert Casadesus Prize for her performance of French music.
- Sleeve Notes
George Enescu (1881-1955) is today most widely celebrated as one of the world’s greatest violinists of his generation, a fine conductor and by far the most significant composer of his native Romania. Certainly many great musicians who knew him – including his pupils and protégés Yehudi Menuhin, Arthur Grumiaux and Ivry Gitlis, and colleagues such as Alfred Cortot – held him in the highest esteem. Yet even today his music, apart from his exuberant Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 for orchestra (1901), is scarcely known by the wider public. His one major opera, Oedipe (1921-32), though recorded and since accorded increased respect, remains rarely staged; and his extensive work for solo violin (though – perhaps significantly – not including a concerto) is only beginning to catch the attention of a new generation of soloists.
In adult life George Enescu liked to describe himself as a ‘son of the soil’, yet his father was in fact an estate administrator and in his own right a modest land owner – therefore a man of some importance to the local community in Liveni where the future composer was born. Nonetheless, Enescu’s earliest musical experiences were close to the local peasantry: among his childhood memories was listening aged three to a gypsy band playing on panpipes, violins, a cimbalom and a double bass; and hiding in an orchard to listen to an old gardener play a flute.
In Romania, masters of improvisation and ornamentation in instrumental music were known as ‘lautari’ – literally ‘fiddlers’ but a title which applied to any professional folk musicians with such skills – quite often but not invariably gypsy musicians. It was from such a musician, known as Lau Chioru (‘Squinting Nick’), that Enescu first learned to play violin at the age of four. Such was his innate talent that his parents soon took him to audition with the violin professor and director of the Conservatoire at Iasi (capital of Moldavia) Eduard Caudella. The good professor recommended that Enescu should learn to read music; Enescu accordingly was taken home to learn this skill, and he almost immediately started to compose. Taken back to Caudella when he was seven, the professor – highly impressed by the youth’s burgeoning talent – now recommended that Enescu should enter the Vienna Conservatoire. This he did that very year, on 5 October 1888.
Enescu continued to compose, and while in Vienna fell under the spell of both Wagner and Brahms. He saw no paradox in admiring both composers, and once explained: “Wagner and Brahms were not at all antithetical as people have made them out to be. They were opposed to each other much more by reason of policy than musically.” The prospect of studying under Massenet then brought him to Paris early in 1895. Though the Paris Conservatoire was then still under the directorship of Ambroise Thomas, whose stifling academicism was to inspire much rebellion from Paris’s more able musicians, Enescu appreciated the teaching and encouragement he received from both Massenet and his successor, Fauré. Enescu also received a solid grounding in counterpoint from the lesser-known but much admired teacher André Gédalge (who also taught Ravel, Koechlin and Schmitt, as well as, some time after Enescu’s graduation, Ibert, Honegger and Milhaud). Enescu found Gédalge’s methods very much in accord with his natural inclination, and was later to state: “Harmonic progressions only amount to a sort of elementary improvisation. However short it is, a piece deserves to be called a musical composition only if it has a line, a melody, or, even better, melodies superimposed on one another.”
In April 1899, Enescu composed his Second Violin Sonata. By then he had achieved compositional fame with his Poème Roumain, completed in 1897 and which had enjoyed remarkable success when premiered by the Colonne Orchestra in Paris. It caused an even greater sensation when played in Bucharest, securing Enescu overnight national fame and the patronage of the Queen of Romania. In the meantime a theme had been germinating in Enescu’s mind, one which first occurred to him – he later said – “At the age of 14, when I was walking by myself in Prince Maurouzi’s garden… I carried it inside me for three years; then, at 17, I wrote my Second Violin Sonata in the space of a fortnight.” The success of his Poème had no doubt galvanized his confidence, and his Violin Sonata in F minor was the most distinctive work he had ever composed till then, in terms of its character and its lean, purposeful sense of unity, being largely derived from its long opening theme.
In three movements, it begins with that sombre and mysterious theme, played in unison by violin and piano. As the music progresses and blossoms, one may perhaps hear the influence here of Fauré, and there of Chausson in the music’s moments of harmonic poignancy; but Enescu’s delivery is far more forthright than the sensibility of either of those French composers. The second movement, also in F minor, is more straight-forwardly songful in a melancholic manner: there is a central section in which the melody undergoes a dreamy variation, with perhaps a hint of the twin influences of Brahms and Wagner which had been so crucial to the young Enescu. The former mood returns, though with the violin now muted and entering a more shadowy realm with a scurrying tremolo. The movement ends as if with a question, which links straight into the finale. In that movement the strongest influence appears to be Fauré, its scherzando mood built on quirky, elliptical harmonies. In true cyclic style the Sonata’s opening theme reappears, an impassioned statement in the midst of so much light-hearted banter; and later still the second movement’s melancholic song also appears. The general mood, though, is playful and merry, with an appropriate final pay-off.
Asked once to describe the essential character of Romanian music, Enescu replied: “Dreaming. And a tendency, even in fast sections, towards melancholy, towards minor keys.” It was above all the doina – a slow and melancholic song or instrumental melody found particularly in Romania – which inspired some of Enescu’s most characteristic music, including his Third Violin Sonata. Enescu composed this in August through to November 1926, and described the Sonata on its title page as “dans le caractère populare roumain”. In an interview two years later, Enescu emphasized the difference between ‘style’ and ‘character’ and why he opted for the latter description: “I don’t use the word ‘style’ because that implies something made or artificial, whereas ‘character suggests something given, existing from the beginning.”
Enescu was particularly wary of using genuine folk themes in sophisticated music for the concert hall, describing the result as “diamonds set in concrete”. Rather, he in effect invented his own folk language, having deeply absorbed the peasant and gypsy music of his native country. This influence can be not only heard in the exotic inflections and character of the music, but may also be witnessed in Enescu’s meticulous notation of the violin part – generally inspired by the improvisatory style of Romanian fiddlers – indicating which part of the bow the player should use, degrees of vibrato and exactly how to execute the many ornaments in the violin’s music. Meanwhile the piano is often imitating instruments such as the cimbalom, or such natural sounds as bird song or the chirping of crickets.
Enescu brought this imitative art to a new level 14 years later with Impressions d’enfance – truly an artful evocation of a child’s perspective on a world that appears intriguing, magical and sometimes threatening. The suite, very specifically, recalls Enescu’s own childhood; as the twelfth and only surviving child, he had been cosseted by his mother who had prevented him from playing with other children. So the memories evoked by this suite are those of a solitary child, who hears a gypsy musician, encounters a beggar, a caged bird and a cuckoo clock, and such living creatures or natural phenomena he might encounter in the family’s garden. There’s even an eerie evocation of the wind howling in the chimney. All of this is woven into music which is not merely evocative, but haunting, disturbing and strange, until dawn the next morning brings the suite to a joyous conclusion.
© Daniel Jaffé
- Press Reviews
"These are engrossing performances of some of the 20th century's most original and compelling violin music."
"...be in no doubt, there is some stella playing on this disc."
"The piano ripples over the opening phrase ... the violin gives a yearning, wavering cry and immediately we're in Enescu's world..."
"Daniel Rowland has a powerful, glamorous town, gleaming down at the top and throaty and rugged down at the bottom, and Natacha Kudritskaya matches him every bar of the way for passion, fantasy and precision."
- Richard Bratty, Gramophone
"Daniel Rowland and Natacha Kudritskaya prove to be the perfect partnership and give an exquisite performance of music by Enescu ... Highly recommended."
- BBC Music Magazine
"Violinist Daniel Rowland and pianist Natacha Kudritskaya... have a great time with three major works for violin and piano by George Enescu"
"All of which calls for the remarkably close partnership between violin and piano that Rowland and Kudritskaya show in these recordings
- Audio Video Club of Atlanta
"...a blockbuster performance of the third sonata... Urgently recommended."
"...all recorded in sound that's sensitive to both tonal and dynamic nuance..."
"...these wide-ranging performances could leave listeners stunned by their power and insight."
- Robert Maxham, Fanfare Magazine
"[Rowland] is a very stylish and charismatic player, and he understands this music perfectly."
"Notcha Kudritskaya is just as well attuned to Enescu's idiom and draws bewitching sounds for her instrument."
"These are among the very finest performances of all three works that I have heard ... they are good enough to be the only ones in your record library."
- American Record Guide
"[Enescu's] imaginative compositions, beautifully performed by Daniel Rowland and Natacha Kudritskaya..."
"[Rowland & Kudritskaya] perform the compositions with energetic precision... Their musical approach is delicious, and inextricably links to the listener..."
- Music Frames
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