Georges Enescu: The Columbia Recordings = Works of CHAUSSON, CORELLI, PUGNANI, HANDEL & ENESCU – Opus Kura

by | Aug 11, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Georges Enescu: The Columbia Recordings = CHAUSSON: Poeme, Op. 25; CORELLI: Sonata in D Minor, Op. 5, No. 12 “La Folia”; PUGNANI: Largo from Sonata No. 3; HANDEL: Sonata in D Major, Op. 1, No. 13; ENESCU: Violin Sonata No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 25 – Georges Enescu, violin/Sanford Schlussel, piano/Celiny Chailley-Richez, piano

Opus Kura OPK 2086, 68:56 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

In conversation with cellist Janos Starker some years ago, I asked him which musicians consistently proved most gratifying to him. Starker replied, “If you ask me which composer I most enjoy ‘reading through,’ then I say Brahms. But if you ask me which musician was the ‘most complete,’ then I say Enescu.” Georges Enescu (1881-1955) seems to have fulfilled the entire vocation of an active Romanian musician, and his violin artistry still speaks volumes to a style that influenced a whole generation of colleagues, among whom Ida Haendel still represents an active advocacy. Enescu began cutting acoustic records in 1924 for Columbia, but many would argue that he hit his mature stride in 1929, when he made several of the items included in this Opus Kura restoration.

Enescu opens with a legendary inscription of Chausson’s Poeme, a piece that exploits his generous warm tone, bowed articulation, and a Franco-Belgian approach to vibrato and flexible rhythm. The swelling in the musical line accrues a sense of devotional majesty hard to convey in words. More of a philosopher than a ‘mere’ musician, Enescu’s studied application of technique and poignant phraseology always has a quality of thoughtful pondering on the works he loves. Despite the ravages of time, the old shellacs virtually smolder with magical incense.  Likewise, the La Folia Variations allow Enescu and pianist Schlussel to transform an academic set of variations into an exquisite procession of aerial and compassionate variety. The Pugnani Largo makes a fine lyric, a song without words in tender, stately figures. But what Enescu thought was a second Pugnani piece, a Tempo di minuetto, turns out to be one of those Fritz Kreisler forgeries in an antique style. Its supple trills, mock-martial rhythm, security of line, and noblesse of expression capture the spirit of the age regardless of authorship.

For mastery in legato playing, go directly to the Handel Sonata in D, a long-time favorite of violinists like Nathan Milstein, who played it with more objective sang-froid. Enescu squeezes every emotional nuance from the Adagio’s opening line, more than twenty violinists could extract from the entire piece. His vibrato and arched phrasing, the nuanced inflection in the rhythm, each contributes to a musically gratifying experience, regardless of the historical “authenticity” of edition or style. The ensuing Allegro, played a tad marcato, enjoys a lovely patina, a charming smoothness of delivery, especially when the cantilena breaks forth. A piquant Larghetto, a chorale really, leads to an enchanting French gigue, Allegro, with suave trills and feathery upper notes – a charmer for posterity.

For his own Sonata No. 3 in A Minor (1926), “In the Romanian Mode,” Enescu has as his accompanist Celiny Chailley-Richez (1884-1973), a former classmate from the Paris Conservatory.  Producer Satoru Aihara indicates only “LP private recording c. 1950” on his label as documentation; I cannot ascertain if this were the Remington label’s contribution to the Enescu legacy, that Don Gabor company which successfully competed with the majors for a few precious years.  While his technique is not quite so exact as it had been twenty years prior, Enescu manages a stylistic tour de force, his gypsy heritage instinctive and musically alert on every page.  Despite the fiery whirling elements in the writing, Enescu’s approach remains classic, chaste, directly on point. The obvious mutual affection of the partners rings authentically in every bar. Listen to the dazzling ‘special effects’ in slides, double stops, sustained fullness of tone, and harmonics in the second movement, Andante sostenuto e misterioso, and ask yourself if the old man’s powers are diminished. In the last movement, we become more than ever aware of the Eastern influence in the piece, the attempt to achieve microtones and ‘shruti” as though the piece followed the logic of an Indian raga system. The whistles and slides that infest the movement reflect the persistent gypsy approach to all this “academia,” that Enescu can still laugh at his own esoteric sources and make great music besides.

— Gary Lemco

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