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8.223141 - ENESCU: Symphony No. 1 / Sinfonia Concertante
George Enescu (1881-1955)
The Romanian composer and violinist George Enescu may now be seen as the most important figure in the musical history of his country. He was born in Moldavia in 1881 and had violin lessons there with a pupil of Vieuxtemps, before moving, at the age of seven, to the Conservatory in Vienna, where he studied with Joseph Hellmesberger. In 1893 he went to Paris for further study with Marsick and took composition lessons at the Conservatoire from Massenet and Fauré. In 1897 a concert of his work was given in Paris and by 1899, when he won the first violin prize of the Conservatoire, he was already known as a composer, his Poéme roumain having proved particularly successful. His subsequent career brought him similar distinction both as a performer and as a conductor.
Although Enescu's career was centred on Paris, with the formation in 1904 of the Enescu Quartet, and increasing commitments both as an unwilling virtuoso and later as a teacher, he retained his connections with Romania and did much to encourage music there, through the Bucharest Conservatory and through the Conservatory at lasy, where he established the George Enescu Symphony Orchestra in 1917. His influence on younger Romanian composers was to remain considerable.
Yehudi Menuhin, in his autobiographical Unfinished Journey, has described the powerful impression that Enescu made on him, when, as a small child, he first saw him at a concert in San Francisco. He was later to become Enescu's pupil in Paris, and has given testimony to the strong influence that Enescu had on his musical development. Other pupils included Arthur Grumiaux, Christian Ferras and Ida Haendel.
Enescu was a remarkably versatile musician. He was a competent pianist, accompanying Thibaud in the first performance of his own second Violin Sonata, and able to play all of Wagner from memory at the keyboard. In his phenomenal memory he held the complete works of Bach, and Menuhin describes how he was able to play Ravel's new Violin Sonata from memory after two brief readings with the composer. His natural ability as a small child had led him to become a virtuoso violinist, but his interest was always rather in composition than performance, the second providing the means for the first. His life was divided between Paris and Romania, his character and his music presenting a similar contrast between cosmopolitan urbanity and the more passionate elements that were part of his Moldavian inheritance.
Between the ages of twelve and eighteen Enescu wrote four "school" symphonies, following these with his very successful Romanian Poem and Romanian Rhapsodies. The first of his five mature symphonies, two of them to remain unfinished, the Symphony No. 1 in E Flat Major, was completed in 1905 and first performed in Paris in the following year. The work is in three movements, without a Scherzo, following the pattern of César Franck, and is a clear extension of the existing symphonic tradition of Brahms, while showing the influence of Berlioz and of Wagner.
The first movement is in broadly classical form, a vigorous first idea contrasting with a second more lyrical mood. The material, integrated by its rhythmic similarity, is developed with increasing dramatic tension in the central section, while the recapitulation brings the movement to an impressive conclusion.
The slow movement opens in ominous calm, a repeated motif played by the French horn answered by the orchestra, as the first theme emerges in the strings, characteristic of Enescu's writing in its nobility and intensity. A faster, yet lyrical melody unfolds and the two themes are developed with masterly polyphonic skill. The passionate yearning of the movement leads to a conclusion in which the three-note motif returns, a nostalgic memory of what has passed.
The energetic final movement bursts upon the listener with all its bright orchestral colouring. The composer casts the movement again in classical form, the first subject consisting of two musical elements, a rhythmic one suggested by the strings, and a melodic one given in a number of striking motifs, material that provides the source of what follows, although it is possible to realise passing connections with the opening of the symphony. The central development section is relatively brief, followed by a full recapitulation, which brings the work to an impressive conclusion.
Enescu's Sinfonia Concertante in B Minor for cello and orchestra, Opus 8, was written in 1901, the year of the two Romanian Rhapsodies and presents the solo instrument in a dramatic and powerful role, from the B Minor introduction to the sonata-form movement that follows, with its exciting concertante passage-work for the cello. The second movement, which follows without a pause, is also in traditional sonata-form, and makes similarly use of motifs that suggest, at least, their Romanian origin.
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