Sunday 15 December 2013

Attractive, fascinating works by Enescu, brilliantly played by Hannu Lintu with the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir

The Romanian composer George Enescu (1881-1955) was born in Liveni-Vîrnav, a village in North-eastern Romania the son of an estate bailiff and a teacher. His first violin lessons were from a Roma musician, followed by regular violin classes in Botosani. At the age of seven, he commenced his studies at the Vienna Music Conservatory, receiving lessons from Josef Hellmesberger the concert-master of the Vienna Philharmonic and studying harmony with Robert Fuchs and counterpoint with Johann Nepomuk Fuchs.

After his graduation from the Vienna Conservatory, Enescu continued his studies at the Conservatoire de Paris, attending composition classes with Jules Massenet and Gabriel Fauré, while learning counterpoint with André Gédalge. His fellow students were, among others, Maurice Ravel and Charles Koechlin.

1898 saw the first performance in Paris of Enescu’s Op.1 Poème Roumain (Romanian Poem) at the Concerts Colonne achieving a considerable success. Later that year he made his first public appearance as a conductor, performing that same work at the Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest. It was about this time that Enescu started out on his outstanding career as violinist, one that would lead to him travelling through Europe and America.

Enescu graduated from the Conservatoire de Paris in 1899 and became a member of the examining jury at the Conservatoire de Paris in 1904, composing several works for use as examination pieces. As one of Europe's most famous musicians he was instrumental in the founding of the Romanian Opera in Bucharest and established a series of concerts in order to bring the international repertoire before the Romanian public.

Despite the turmoil of the First World War, Enescu started sketches for his opera Oedipe and in 1917 founded a philharmonic orchestra employing both local musicians and refugees. In 1920 he became the first president of the newly founded Society of Romanian Composers.

It was in 1927 that Enescu began to teach perhaps his most famous student, Yehudi Menuhin. In 1928 he was giving violin classes at the École Normale de Musique in Paris as well as at Harvard University in Boston, USA. In 1929 he was elected corresponding member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts de l'Institut de France and in 1933 a member of the Romanian Academy. 1936 saw the first performance of Enescu's opera Oedipe at the Grand Opéra Paris, conducted by Philippe Gaubert with him, later that year, being conferred the title of a Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur in France.

In 1946, Enescu left Romania for a tour of the USA, seen very much as a protest against the new communist regime. In 1948, Enescu started delivering courses at the Mannes School of Music in New York. From 1952 until 1954 he gave Master classes in violin interpretation in Bryanstone, USA and Sienna, Italy. Enescu died in 1955 in his suite at the hotel Atala in Paris and was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Enescu’s compositions include his opera Oedipe, choral works, songs, chamber works including two string quartets, piano works and orchestral works including five symphonies, the third of which is featured on a new release from Ondine coupled with his Ouverture de Concert, Op.32. Hannu Lintu conducts the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir

ODE 1197-2

The overture that opens this new disc has the full title Ouverture de Concert sur des thèmes dans le caractère populaire roumain, Op.32. Dating from 1948, it opens very much with the sound of folk song, similar to that of Bartok though, of course, this is Enescu drawing on Romanian folk tunes. A more flowing melody with an Eastern inflection soon arrives before the opening theme returns and is developed, becoming more animated. When a slower, quieter flute theme is heard, it gradually grows in the orchestra as Enescu subjects the theme to much variety moving from quiet and thoughtful to powerful and dramatic. Enescu has a colourful use of the orchestra that can suddenly inject a lovely character to the music.

Enescu’s sumptuously scored Symphony No.3, Op.21 was completed in 1918 but revised in 1921. The opening Moderato, un poco maestoso slowly works its way up from a quiet start until a sudden break occurs, when a more animated section commences. Slowly the music subdues as it heads to the second subject, a rhythmically lilting theme that often becomes quite romantic in feel. These themes are developed with some remarkable layering of sound. At one point hints of Mahler appear and, later, there are almost chamber sized proportions to the orchestral sound. The music eventually becomes more thoughtful before romantic swoops of strings lead to a more animated section that soon quietens before the brass enter to end positively.

The Vivace, ma non troppo brings light textured and quicksilver playing from Hannu Lintu and the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra with some lovely subtleties in the orchestral treatment of the theme. For all its lightness of touch and upbeat tempo there is a troubled nature to the music, with quieter passages that seem withdrawn and other worldly, with fleeting little motifs drifting by quietly. Around halfway, a turning point arrives, not so much a climax as a peak, with the sound of the anvil, drums and other percussion pointing up the anguish of the section. Brass intone as the music keeps moving forward in rising waves, often with quite Mahlerian string and woodwind sounds. Eventually the music falls to a quiet woodwind motif before rising massively to the true climax. As the music once more quietens, there is a lovely little woodwind passage before the strings move the music on, until a mysterious little section ends the movement.

String chords, immediately followed by brass, open the Lento, ma non troppo before a melody is tentatively hinted at across the orchestra. Soon the violins present the melody, a beautiful one, which is shared around the orchestra. There is an insistent harp motif before the wordless chorus enters and the orchestra becomes richer and more romantic. The music quietens as the choir re-appear briefly before the orchestra becomes more agitated with little outbursts. The choir re-enter reaching upwards with the music becoming more and more passionate. Each time the orchestra and choir become more passionate. Eventually the sound of tinkling bells signals another section for a voluptuous orchestra and choir surging and swirling forwards. The tinkling bells reappear with chiming tubular bells as, quietly, an organ joins before the music rises again with the scented sounds of the orchestra and chorus. The orchestra alone leads to a languorous, settled coda with just a rumble of timpani, pizzicato strings and a final chord on deep bass strings.

These are attractive, fascinating works brilliantly played by Hannu Lintu with the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. There are moments that could be in danger of becoming schmaltzy in other hands, but Lintu successfully manages to avoid this.

The recording made in the Tampere Hall, Finland is first rate and there are informative booklet notes.


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