About this Recording
8.223143 - ENESCU: Symphony No. 3 / Chamber Symphony

George Enescu (1881-1955)
Symphony No. 3 in C Major, Opus 21
Moderato, un poco maestoso
Vivace, ma non troppo
Lento, ma non troppo
Chamber Symphony for 12 solo instruments, Opus 33
Molto moderato un poco maestoso
Allegretto molto moderato
Adagio – Allegro molto moderato

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 so-called "school" symphonies, works that he did not consider for public performance, followed by his very successful excursion into overt nationalism, the two Romanian Suites, the Romanian Poem and the two Romanian Rhapsodies. The first of the five symphonies he attempted in maturity was written in 1905 and given its first public performance in Paris in the following year. The Second Symphony was only to receive one performance in the composer's life-time. It was completed in 1914 and seemed to Enescu to need some revision.<

Enescu's Symphony No. 3 in C Major, written between 1916 and 1921, brings to an end a period in his creative life that has a certain unity about it. It was, in any case, the last symphony to be completed, since he never finished the Fourth Symphony of 1934, or the Fifth, which he started in 1941. The music that follows may retain recurrent elements from earlier works, but consists largely of individual works, each independent of any particular form of composition.

In the symphony, as, of course, in his opera Oedipe, and as in the later symphonic poem, Vox maris, Enescu uses voices as an important element at key moments in the score, treating them almost orchestrally. The Third Symphony was preceded by a sketched Symphony in F Minor for baritone solo, choir and orchestra, based on Psalm XXXVI, a work that suggests aspects of the later completed symphony.

It has been suggested that Enescu's Third Symphony is in some ways derived from memories of the slow movements of the earlier symphonies. In any event the work may be regarded as the culmination of the drama of the romantic symphony. Each of the three movements is in itself a symphonic poem, the first intelligible in terms of the Second Symphony, of lyrical romanticism, followed by a second movement of contrasting optimism and threatened danger, leading to a finale of luminous intensity in which the chorus makes its appearance, the whole an original and remarkable creation, that may remind us of the composer's declared temperamental preference for "vast works in which the spirit sets itself a remote goal, works commensurate with those landscapes which contain sky and the immensity of space."

The Chamber Symphony for 12 instruments, Opus 33, was written in 1954, the year before Enescu's death and was his last composition, a perfect summary of his achievement as a composer and an example of the innovative tendencies of his later work. Dedicated to Fernand Oubradous and the Paris Chamber Concert Association, the symphony is scored for flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano and is in three movements that form an integrated whole in themselves.

The first movement is in sonata-form, but without a development section, and makes use of two generally similar themes, the lyrical first melody introduced by the flute, which also introduces the dance-like second subject. This is followed by a second movement in the form of a theme and variations, the chromatic melody carrying tragic implications, in contrast to the more lyrical first movement. The final movement opens with a slow introduction, followed by a free treatment of the three thematic elements that have formed the substance of what has gone before. These themes eventually become one, a reconciliation, as it were, of the conflicts of human existence.

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