Violinist Daniel Rowland and pianist Natacha Kudritskaya, natives of London and Kiev, respectively, have a great time with three major works for violin and piano by George Enescu (1881–1955).
In doing research for the present review, I was shocked to find how little of the Roumanian composer’s music I had in my own listening library—basically only the two Roumanian Rhapsodies for orchestra and his Suite No. 2 for piano. Enescu is, in fact, probably the most under-represented of all the world’s great composers in concert programs and recordings.
There are several reasons for this scarcity. One obvious explanation is that Enescu was much in demand as a performing artist. He was world-class as both a violinist and a pianist, something I cannot recall to be the case of any composer since Mozart. His pupils and protegés included the likes of Yehudi Menuhin, Arthur Grumiaux, and Ivry Gitlis. He was also a conductor of some note. But perhaps the most important reason we don’t hear more of Enescu is that he was so very meticulous in the care with which he approached any new work of music.
Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor, heard on the present program, will give even the most casual listener an impression of how carefully Enescu approached his art. It is extremely densely annotated in terms of the small details one is expected to negotiate in order to achieve the improvisatory sound of folk fiddling and the essentially Roumanian character of the music—indications as to which part of the bow to use on which strings, the precise degree of vibrato, and how to execute the many ornaments the composer calls for. As Rowland has expressed it, “One needs an accountant’s attention to detail coupled with the fiery, limitless abandon of a gypsy!”
Other qualities which make this sonata distinctive, and which it also shares to some degree with Violin Sonata No. 2 in F minor, include its dreamlike quality and the tendency toward melancholy and minor keys, even in fast sections where you least expect it. Unless my ears are playing tricks on me, Enescu even explores semitones, at a time when few other composers concerned themselves with them.
Consider also Enescu’s fascination for the sounds of nature. Like Bartok in Hungary, he seemed to have had a preternatural sensitivity for nocturnal sounds—the chirrping of birds, the sussurient sounds of crickets. These traits reach an apex in Impressions d’enfance (Impressions of Childhood, Op. 28), in which Rowland claims to detect evocations of a street fiddler, a pitiful beggar, birdsong, a cuckoo clock, and moonlight streaming through the curtains of the child’s bedroom at night.
All of which calls for the remarkably close partnership between violin and piano that Rowland and Kudritskaya show in these recordings. Close miking, in which we can even hear the violinist’s sympathetic breathing, allows us to hear a wealth of vital details.