AUGUST ENNA: Overture “Cleopatra”; Violin Con. in D major; Symphonic Fantasy – Kathrin Rabus, violin/NDR Radiophilharmonie/Hermann Bäumer – CPO

by | Dec 21, 2014 | Classical CD Reviews

AUGUST ENNA: Overture “Cleopatra”; Violin Concerto in D major; Symphonic Fantasy – Kathrin Rabus, violin/NDR Radiophilharmonie/Hermann Bäumer – CPO 777 674-2, 63:40 [Distr. by Naxos] (7/8/14) ***:

I had never heard of Danish composer August Enna until this recording. German label CPO has a long tradition of showcasing lesser known composers and performers to their credit. In trying to learn more about Enna I discovered that CPO has released other music by this early twentieth protégé of Niels Gade. While Enna’s music, to me, does not seem to be a very unique voice, there is still much to enjoy here.

Enna wrote his opera, Cleopatra, for the Copenhagen Royal Theatre in 1893, using the same librettist as Nielsen’s Saul and David. The success of the work was greatly hampered by a struggle with the prospective publishers and compounded by the composer’s own emotional breakdown. Still a nearly completely unknown work, the Overture presented here is pleasant and tuneful with shades of Sibelius and even Wagner but rarely rises above the level of ‘pleasant.’

For me, the signature work on this disc is also the best. The Violin Concerto in D major was written in 1897 and is a splendid and tuneful work existing in the typical three-movement form. I agree with the fine observations of booklet annotator Jens Cornelius that much of the melodic spin and treatment of the solo violin in this piece owes as much to the sound of Italian opera as it does to Denmark or Norway; Enna being part Italian and very close to his paternal grandfather from Sicily. There is a playful tuneful feel to the opening “Moderato” as well as the closing “Allegro scherzando”. The central “Andante” is amazingly operatic in its feel, including a quote from “Vesti la giubba” from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliaccci. In some ways, the whole movement seems out of place to the work and the context of the composition but I found it to be a highlight of the work. Soloist Kathrin Rabus plays this “over the top” work in a lovely way and truly sells its strong points.

The Symphonic Fantasy became Enna’s last symphonic work (including some symphonies, a few operas and the concerti.) Dedicated to his wife, Anna, this three-movement work is structured like a symphony but the title seems to acknowledge that Enna was aware of the sprawling and rhapsodic nature of this sublimely orchestrated but somewhat schmaltzy work. Here, too, one can hear echoes of Grieg, bits of Verdi and undertones of Wagner. I felt that the closing “Allegro moderato” concludes the work in a strong and attractive way.

It is said that Enna suffered from poor health and some paranoia late in life causing him to be difficult to work with. Coupling that with the attractive but indistinct nature of his music may account for some of his obscurity. I found the Violin Concerto a very worthy and enjoyable piece; opera references and all. I also found the Symphonic Fantasy entertaining. I am interested in hearing some of August Enna’s symphonies.

I think that his music may forever remain a bit obscure, especially in the early twentieth-century compositional swirl that includes names like Langgaard and Stenhammar but it is certainly worth getting to know. Congratulations to CPO and Maestro Bäumer of the NDR Radio Philharmonic for making that possible!

—Daniel Coombs

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