The Solomon Ensemble: Enescu Piano Quintet

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Enescu - Piano Quintet (1940)
Performed by The Solomon Ensemble.

I. Con Moto Molto Moderato - 00:00
II. Andante sostenuto E Cantabile - 9:39
III. Vivace Ma Non Troppo - 21:44

George Enescu Museum (Cantacuzino Palace), Cal...
George Enescu Museum (Cantacuzino Palace), Calea Victoriei, Bucharest, Romania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Lauded as a violinist during his lifetime, George Enescu was a true all-round musician, as his pupil and
devotee Yehudi Menuhin attested on numerous occasions, whose strongest wish was to enjoy comparable recognition as a composer. Despite early success, notably the two Romanian Rhapsodies of 1901, his work found real appreciation only among a number of fellow musicians and admirers. Prolific in his youth, the demands of performance and administration, not to mention upheavals in his personal life and those in his beloved Romania, slowed his creativity so that he was able to complete little more than a dozen major compositions after World War One. Yet the intrinsic quality of these works, bringing together an innate understanding of the Classical masters with the achievements of the French and German Romanticists, and transcending notions of the radical and conservative in music, has led to a gradual resurgence of interest over the past two decades.

Enescu's mature work is of a density of thought and subtlety of expression to demand repeated listening. His themes, while rarely drawing attention to themselves, are capable of far-reaching transformation both across and between movements. Tonally elusive, the music is rarely without a sense of key to ground and direct the underlying argument. A notable feature of his major works is the final-movement coda, an intense and often lengthy process, which combines the salient themes of a work and completes the tonal process in an often rhetorical, though never bombastic fashion. Such qualities are very much in evidence in the two works featured on the present disc.

In common with several of Enescu's later works, the Piano Quintet, dedicated to the memory of Elena Bibescu, the Romanian princess and pianist who had given much support to the composer during his years in Paris at the turn of the century, had a protracted genesis. Numerous drafts anticipate its completion around September 1940, though only the first movement is dated and the work was not performed in the composer's lifetime. In size and scope, it recalls the First String Quartet (1920) in its expansiveness and overall emotional sweep. The powerfully restrained Con moto molto moderato first movement sustains concentration over a lengthy time-span through an involved developing of its two main themes, replete with subtle contrasts in mood and pacing.

The succeeding Vivace ma non troppo is more animated in every respect, alternating a robust, dance-like main theme with episodes of a more inward nature. Reminiscences of the first movement gradually emerge, however: its passionate yearning finally combining with the second movement's energy as a grand apotheosis is reached, the work then drawing to a decisive, even defiant conclusion. Exemplifying a potent expressive focus and textural finesse, the Piano Quintet had to wait until 1964 for its premiere, which took place in Bucharest.