Fanfare, Robert Maxham
George Enescu Works for Violin and Piano
Champs Hill Records CHRCD120
Violinist Daniel Rowland and pianist Natacha Kudritskaya begin their program of works by the Romanian composer and violinist George Enescu with a reading of his colorful Third Sonata, “dans le caractère populaire roumain,” that, in the first of its three movements, Moderato malinconico, misses few opportunities for communicating to listeners with bold gestures—in this case sharply defined, dynamically contrasted ones rendered exceptionally exotic by raw, smeary portamentos.
Two generations ago, I heard Isaac Stern make a similar impression in a live performance of the sonata; but in the auditorium the audience could watch as he lobbed pulverized musical phrases at one individual listener after another, making penetrating eye contact with each. I’d have been scared out of my wits if I’d been sitting in a front row.
Rowland and especially Kudritskaya fully indulge the mystery implied in the second movement’s title, Andante sostenuto e misterioso. Their command of timbral nuance hardly suggests makes their playing sound tightly controlled; at times they skirt close to the brink of abandon. In the finale, Allegro con brio, ma non troppo mosso, they once again make Enescu’s fragmentary gesticulations seem larger than life, especially in the tumultuous last page.
Throughout the sonata, in fact, they amply provide the kind of authenticity you might expect to hear from violinists such as Ivry Gitlis, Ida Haendel, Isaac Stern, or the composer himself—they’ve made of the work a force of nature in which they raise actual goosebumps. Yet Rowland never produces a quirkily unpleasant sound from the 1776 Lorenzo Storioni violin he plays—every timbral effect, no matter how lurid, seems to flow naturally from the expressive demands of the music itself.
The duo also finds the generative center of the Second Sonata’s first movement, which, though French in sensibility, contains haunting and daunting moments of overwhelming emotional power. Their reading of the slow movement disappears into a magical wisp of sound; the finale compounds stentorian statement with whimsy.
Impressions d’enfance, from 1940, makes very realistic references at times to the world of sound Enescu experienced as a young boy, weaving into its variegated sonic quilt a gypsy fiddler, an old beggar (whom Rowland presents in a surprisingly suave tonal garb), various bird calls, both free and caged (once again, Rowland never goes so far in realistic portrayal that he draws unpleasant sounds from his instrument—his means remain always musical ones), wind in the chimney, and, at the end, sunrise. Though these impressions may be surrealistically vivid, neither Enescu nor the duo ever make them sound maudlinly nostalgic.
With a blockbuster performance of the Third Sonata, a strong-minded one of the Second, and an almost Expresssionistic one of the Impressions, all in recorded sound that is sensitive to both tonal and dynamic nuance, these wide-ranging performances could leave listeners stunned by their power and insight. It’s risky to peer into the future, but this seems like a perfect item for the Want List. Urgently recommended.