ENESCU: Symphony No. 3 in C Major, Op. 21; Concert Overture in A Major, Op. 32 – “George Enescu” Bucharest Philharmonic Choir / “George Enescu” Bucharest Philharmonic Orch. / Christian Mandeal – Arte Nova ANO 378630, 59:43 [Distr. by Allegro] ***1/2:
Romanian composer George Enescu is one of those unfortunates who created such a well-known orchestral bonbon (or, in his case, a pair of them) that his other works dwell in largely undeserved shadow. The aforementioned bonbons, of course, are the two Romanian Rhapsodies, especially No. 1 of 1909. But just as colorful and even more accomplished is his Orchestral Suite No. 3, Suite Villagoise (which happens to have been recorded by Christian Mandeal and the Bucharest Philharmonic, along with the Suite No. 2 and that ubiquitous Romanian Rhapsody No. 1). Enescu’s opera Oedipe is also worth hearing—something easier done on recording than in performance. (Though premiered in Paris in 1936, it had to wait till 2005 for its U.S. debut!) Also recommendable are some of Enescu’s chamber works, especially those for his own instrument—the violin—for which he wrote three sonatas and the charming Impressions d’Enfance.
Enescu studied at the Vienna Conservatory with Robert Fuchs and at the Conservatoire with Fauré and Massenet. He kept his ties with Paris throughout his life, ending his days there in the wake of the Soviet takeover of Romania. Enescu kept a busy schedule as a performer, conductor, and teacher of such legendary violinists as Yehudi Menuhin and Arthur Grumiaux. Despite this, he managed to produce quite a lot of music. As conductor, Enescu often premiered his own works including the two on the present disc, the Symphony in Paris (1921) and the Overture in Washington (1948).
Having been written during World War I, the Third Symphony reflects both the anguish of the period and, in the last movement, a hope for the future. It was premiered, after all, at a time when the Great War could still be wishfully construed as the war to end all wars. That final movement features a wordless choir; I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re reminded of the shimmering choral-orchestral effects in Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. But unlike Ravel’s work, with its wild bacchanal of a finale, Enescu’s symphony ends on a quietly rapturous note, with a tolling bell followed by orchestral trills and soaring string figures. Ending a symphony quietly is often considered the kiss of death, but Enescu manages to make this ending so eventful that the old saw doesn’t hold weight in this case. Nonetheless, the symphony is a bit overlong and somewhat shapeless in the fashion of late-Romantic symphonies by the likes of Schmidt, Röntgen, or Weingartner, though Enescu’s work speaks with a decidedly French accent rather than a German one. But his use of the orchestra is impressive, and the last movement is a very attractive wallow in late-Romantic sonorities.
By contrast, the Concert Overture, which bears the subtitle Sur des thèmes dans le caractère populaire roumain, is a more tightly-run musical ship. It’s leaner in orchestration, more rhythmically pointed, yet just as colorful. It’s a successful exploitation of folk-musical materials along the lines of Bartók’s more popular orchestral works such as Hungarian Sketches. Still, there’s a dark moodiness about the piece that seems to be missing in Enescu’s earlier evocations of Romanian folk music; there’s a certain world-weariness to the work.
The performances by Mandeal and his Bucharest orchestra are good ones; the players obviously take a proprietary interest in their namesake composer. I can imagine a suaver, lusher orchestral sound, especially in the overripe Third Symphony, but mostly the playing and singing are up to snuff. One reason the performing forces don’t make as big an impact as they might is the recording: it gives a fine sense of depth and spaciousness but is a bit distant. However, once you get your volume levels set just right, the effect is pleasing enough. And at Arte Nova’s very nice budget price, you can certainly afford to explore Enescu’s rich orchestral tapestries.
Historic renderings of music from France