The Romanian Cultural Institute has maintained a regular series of recitals (always including the music of George Enescu) over the past few years, but this event had a fund-raising purpose in addition to its musical interest. Both of the musicians have impeccable credentials when it comes to performing Romania’s greatest composer: Alexandru Tomescu undertakes regular tours with the Stradivarius ‘Elder-Voicu’, and this year marks the 60th-anniversary of Enescu’s death with recitals featuring all the works for violin and piano; while Raluca Stirbat is in the process of recording all of the completed music for solo piano. Quite a pedigree, and this concert did not disappoint in its canny selection of pieces either by Enescu himself or which were included in his repertoire or inspired by his playing.
Fritz Kreisler was among numerous contemporaries with whom Enescu enjoyed a lifelong friendship and performed various miniatures – not least the Praeludium and Allegro (1910). It’s “in the style of Pugnani” subtitle denotes the brooding lyricism and boisterous vigour of its contrasted sections. Tomescu and Stirbat did justice to both, then gave a commanding account of the Scherzo (1853) that the young Brahms contributed to a Sonata jointly composed with Albert Dietrich and Robert Schumann – bracing and eloquent by turns through to its grandly rhetorical close. Eugène Ysaÿe’s reputation rests on his six unaccompanied Violin Sonatas dedicated to fellow violinists: much the most often heard, the Sonata-Ballade (1923) combines a formal ingenuity with cumulative emotion that was to the fore in Tomescu’s charged rendering.
Music by Enescu occupied the second half. Neither its title nor dedication (to Princess Marie Cantacuzène) prepares one for the expressive range and scope of the Nocturne (1907) which was neither publicly performed nor published in its composer’s lifetime. Harmonically and texturally this is among the most questing of Enescu’s earlier works, and those familiar with either of the recordings may have been surprised by the force with which Stirbat projected its ardour and, in the tempestuous central section, ferocity of its emotions. This was followed by the last two movements of the Third Violin Sonata (1926): most often heard among Enescu’s mature works, its synthesis of technical dexterity with the subtlest folk inflections rarely fails to cast its spell – Tomescu and Stirbat amply conveying the smouldering passion at its core.
A memorable recital, then, and a memorable evening in that all funds (including the performers’ fees) were donated to the fund for restoring the Enescu House at Mihaileni in North-Eastern Romania. The building was built in the early nineteenth-century and owned by the composer’s mother; Enescu holidayed and worked there on many occasions, though it is in serious need of restoration. Its cause has been championed by Tomescu and Stirbat and recently taken up by Pro Patrimonio Foundation – founded two decades ago as Romania’s National Trust, which has restored numerous rural dwellings and churches. £40,000 is the immediate goal in this instance, and one can only wish those involved every success in securing the longer-term objective of establishing the Enescu Music Academy at this site.