About this Recording
GP707 - ENESCU, G.: Piano Works (Complete), Vol. 3 (Solaun)
English  French 

George Enescu: A Man for All Musical Seasons
Complete Works for Solo Piano • 3

 

In the vast Eastern European diaspora of 20th Century music, few composers can claim the audacity and originality of George Enescu. Born to a middle class family in 1881 in Liveni, a small Romanian village 400 kilometres from Bucharest, Enescu was barely in his teens when he commanded the attention of Europe’s musical aristocracy as a virtuoso violinist. A versatile polymath from childhood, he was only seven years old when he enrolled at the Vienna Conservatory, making his debut the next year in Romania. In 1895 he entered the Paris Conservatory, where he cultivated his compositional gifts as a student of Fauré and Massenet, astounding all who knew him with his consummate virtuosity at the piano, cello, and organ as well. The Colonne Orchestra, one of the most highly regarded ensembles of the day, gave the Paris premiere of his first major composition, Poème roumain, a work that brought him lifelong fame in his native land and the abiding respect and recognition of the international musical community.

As a conductor and violinist he made several international tours after the end of World War I. In 1933 the New York Philharmonic nominated him to take over its helm from Toscanini (the position went to Barbirolli). He was a champion of contemporary music other than his own, having participated as a pianist in the first performance of Stravinsky’s Les Noces. Accompanied by their composers, he performed the Fauré, Bartók, Strauss, and Ravel violin sonatas, the latter of which he premiered. As a pianist he played four-hand piano music with Fauré, performed Shostakovich with Daniil Shafran, and collaborated with Saint-Saëns, Thibaud, and Richard Tucker; as an orchestral violinist, he performed Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with the composer at the piano.

For nearly a half century the name Enescu was on the lips of every major concert artist. Among them were his classmate at the Conservatoire, Alfred Cortot, his godson Dinu Lipatti; Gustav Mahler, his student Yehudi Menuhin, David Oistrakh, and Clara Haskil, to name only a few. Fleeing Romania’s communist regime for the west, he spent his later years in exile, teaching privately in Paris and at the Mannes College in New York, where many of the most celebrated violinists of the day competed to become his students. His farewell concert with the New York Philharmonic featured him as violinist and conductor. In 1954, Enescu suffered a stroke that paralyzed him. He died a year later.

John Bell Young

The Music

The music of this third instalment of Enescu’s complete works for piano spans six years in the life of the composer, between the ages of thirteen and nineteen, from his last months in Vienna as a student of the Brahms circle (in the Konservatorium der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde), to the year after his graduation from the Conservatoire de Paris, as a composition student of Massenet and Fauré. Enescu presents a unique case in the history of music: that of a composer reared on both the Austro-Germanic tradition and the French one at almost the same time. The pieces recorded here show the transition between those two very different aesthetic influences and how they slowly became assimilated into a single style. This dialectical tension was ever present in Enescu’s work, until the very end of his life, and it is his great achievement to have created a very personal style out of the triple combination of these two traditions along with a very special sensitivity to the folk-music of his native Romania.

As a principle, we have decided to record only those works which were both complete and that did not constitute sketches for further works. This is the reason why the original version of the first movement of the Sonata Op. 24, No. 1 was not included, as Enescu discarded the piece after its reworking into that work.

The Scherzo and Ballade, recorded here for the first time, date from 1894, Enescu’s last year as a thirteen-year-old student in Vienna, during a time when Brahms was still very much alive. Both pieces show the unmistakable influence of the Hamburg master and its treatment of the piano as a symphonic instrument. The Prélude et Scherzo, written already in Paris, a transitional piece, with one foot in Vienna and another in Paris, shows him trying, as a composition juggler, to merge Bachian lyricism with a certain penchant for the chromaticism of Wagner (through the prism of Franck). With the character pieces Barcarolle, La Fileuse and Regrets, we are in the world of French late-Romanticism. The writing starts to be heavily influenced by Fauré, especially his early works, and it is simultaneously exuberant, naïve, and tender. With the two Impromptus (in A flat major and in C major) and Modérément (also recorded here for the first time), we find ourselves even more deeply immersed in the rarefied classicism of Fauré.

The crowning achievement of these early years is his Suite dans le style ancien pour piano seul, Op. 3, written in 1897. It is his first serious attempt at a public work for piano, with an opus number, written immediately after his Poème roumain, Op. 1, and the Violin Sonata, Op. 2 (his first essay in the genre). The Suite reflects the ‘old style’, presumably that of the German Baroque masters, most specially Bach, whom Enescu considered the foundation of his whole career as a composer and performer, throughout his entire life. It is written in four movements, an improvisational Prelude, a Fugue written in the strict style that Enescu was learning from André Gédalge, an Adagio reminiscent of the slow movements of Bach’s solo violin works, and a Finale written in the motoric style of a Baroque toccata.

Gheorge Popescu


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