Feature Review: George Enescu International Festival [September 2015]

Written by: Richard Whitehouse

George Enescu International Festival
Bucharest, Romania
August 30th-September 20th, 2015

George Enescu (1881-1955) in 1930

If this Twenty-Second Edition of the George Enescu Festival had something of a transitional feel, it may well have been occasioned by being the last under the artistic directorship of Ioan Holender. That said the scope of it remained impressive overall, while there is no reason to believe that future Editions will not be even more so. Numerous venues were utilised but, as previously, most of the main events took place either at the visually impressive Athenaeum (similar to a scaled-down Royal Albert Hall) or the Grand Palace which, though its capacity has been reduced during the post-Ceauçescu era, is still among the largest yet far from the most sympathetic such places in Europe (try to imagine an enlarged Royal Festival Hall auditorium with the Barbican Hall acoustic). Events attended are discussed according to venues.

Concert at the Festival Square
Something akin to a ‘fringe’ at the GEF, events at the Festival Square have a more informal manner – taking in films, recitals (often featuring young musicians) and a full-length evening concert. These latter tend to be popular ‘best of’ in content, but a pointer to the future may have been the concert on Saturday the 12th, with the Bucharest Festival Orchestra conducted by the enterprising Cristian Lupeş. The programme began with a first Romanian hearing for Barber’s The School for Scandal Overture, hardly an encapsulation of Sheridan’s comedy but none the less appealing for that – here given a vivacious reading with due space accorded to its melting oboe melody. George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is never an easy piece to hold together, but Angelica Postu enjoyed an obvious rapport with orchestra and conductor – maintaining a keen direction through the lengthy developmental cadenza at its centre, while characterising the ‘big tune’ that follows with real eloquence. An unadvertised extra followed in Nicolae Kirculescu’s Moment Muzical, its main theme known to older Romanian listeners as the signature tune for the TV programme Tele enciclopedia (a precursor of the BBC’s Life on Earth) and enjoyable in its blithe succession of melodies which yet amounts to a cohesive rhapsody. Postu and Lupeş guided it through its paces, clearly relishing its amiable nostalgia.

Cristian Lupeş conducts the Bucharest Festival Orchestra
Photograph: festivalenescu.ro

The second half was altogether more ambitious, a performance (and apparently the first in Bucharest since 1988) of Holst’s The Planets. Not just any performance, either – the orchestra being accompanied by a montage of planetary images astutely selected by Ovidiu Paraschiv, and further complemented with specially commissioned texts by Vlad Zografi such as drew intriguing parallels between each of the astrological personas and aspects of contemporary Romanian society. This latter was a risky strategy, but with actor Marcel Iureş (mainstay of many films both in Romania and Hollywood) entering into its spirit with audible relish and the sound engineer ensuring a viable projection across the large orchestral forces, the whole enterprise came together most effectively: a triumph of coordination for producer Cassandra Topologeanu. For his part, Lupeş secured playing of clarity and commitment – underlining both the power and the pathos of Holst’s famous though always exacting score. Logistical reasons meant that ‘Neptune’ had to be omitted, requiring the repositioning of ‘Jupiter’ as an unexpectedly upbeat finale, but the resulting sequence was effective on its own terms and the performance clearly commended itself to the large and enthusiastic audience. A conductor to look out for, Lupeş will hopefully be able to mount further such concerts at the next festival.

Concerts at the Small Hall of the Palace
These weekend morning recitals (akin to the Sunday-morning ‘coffee concerts’ at Wigmore Hall) are often a highlight of the Festival, not least that by the National Chamber Orchestra of Moldova, also on the 12th. Cristian Florea directed a trenchant account of Warlock’s Capriol Suite, its strings-only version lacking little in textural finesse or expressive poise, and was no less attuned to Bartók’s Divertimento; securing real impetus in the Allegro and a powerfully emergent anguish in the Adagio, before the Finale headed uninhibitedly to its ending. The second half consisted of Enescu’s Octet, most often heard (as here) in its incarnation for larger forces, and in which the Moldovan players responded with discipline and alacrity to Florea’s incisive direction. Most impressive was the way in which a cumulative sonata design came through the four-movement continuity – the ‘expository’ first movement having real emotional breadth, with the ‘developmental’ scherzo and slow movement incisively contrasted, before the Finale’s heady waltz motion provided a ‘reprise and coda’ that carried all before it.

Aoede String Quartet
Photograph: festivalenescu.ro

No less impressive was the recital the following day from the Aoede String Quartet (Sophia Jaffé, Ermir Abeshi, Aida-Carmen Soanea & Romain Garioud). The fervency of Sibelius’s Andante Festivo was followed by Shostakovich’s Fourth Quartet, most notable for the bittersweet poignancy of its Andantino and those Jewish overtones to the fore in its outer movements, rendered with keen rhythmic definition. The first half ended with (non-credited) arrangements from Shostakovich’s theatre scores for Hamlet and The Divine Comedy that retained much of their mordent humour. Alfredo Perl duly joined the Aoede musicians for Enescu’s Piano Quintet – barely acknowledged and never heard in his lifetime, yet one of the most involving of his later works in the thematic integration attained over its complementary pairs of movements. Closely integrated ensemble is a pre-requisite from the outset, and this account left no doubt as to the musicians’ focus as the 35-minute whole accrued necessary momentum on the way to arguably the most effulgent of all the composer’s apotheoses: a memorable performance.

If the recital on Saturday the 19th by the Ad Libitum Quartet (Alexandru Tomescu, Şerban Mereuţă,, Bogdan Bisoc & Fipli Papa) did not quite match this level of consistency, it still summoned a fine showing from this ensemble in Ravel’s String Quartet – lacking a little in forward motion but with a burnished refinement of tone as carried through into Bartók’s Sixth Quartet. In some respects the most elusive of his cycle, this received a thoughtful and frequently affecting reading – though a lengthy round of re-tuning prior to the elegiac Finale was regrettable. After the interval, Alexandra Dariescu joined for Elgar’s Piano Quintet. Hardly standard rare in Romania, one imagines, yet there was no sense of these musicians feeling their way – whether in a first movement that built stealthily from its ominous opening to an impassioned close, or an Adagio imbued with its composer’s innate soulfulness. If the Finale initially lacked propulsion, some agile playing from Dariescu kept it on course for a fervent peroration that was cordially received by the sizeable audience.

Michelangelo Quartet at George Enescu Festival 2015
Photograph: CatalinaFilip

The final morning recital on Sunday the 20th, relocated to the Athenaeum, saw the Michelangelo Quartet (Mihaela Martin, Daniel Austrich, Nobuko Imai & Frans Helmerson) opened a demanding first half with another String Quartet by Bartók. His First can be difficult to sustain both formally and expressively, but this ensemble had the measure of its yearning initial Lento that segues into an Allegretto whose discursiveness was thrown into relief by the Finale’s determined progress towards an affirmative close. Shostakovich’s Third Quartet suffered from the unaccountable omission of the exposition repeat in its first movement, but the sardonic Intermezzo and violent Scherzo that ensue were vividly rendered, while the Adagio’s stark passacaglia then the Finale’s searing climax and resigned close left no doubt as to the ensemble’s identity with this music. Occupying the second half, Dvořák’s ‘American’ Quartet felt a little anti-climactic, yet there was much warmth and pathos across the four succinct movements of this most endearing among its composer’s chamber works.

Concerts at the Athenaeum
No longer is there any risk of afternoon concerts at the Athenaeum overlapping with evening ones at the Palace, which matters as the former events often emerge as highlights of the Festival. Certainly few attending the recitals by Les Dissonances would have regretted doing so: leader David Grimal presides over more than a conductor-less ensemble – on Sunday the 13th his leaving his deputy to coordinate Debussy’s La mer meant absolutely no loss of precision, though a degree more flexibility would have been welcome in the more ruminative passages. Grimal had been saving himself for the Caprice Romain that Enescu drafted in the mid-1920s and which Cornel Tăranu realised seven decades on. Whether or not its four movements add up to a cohesive whole (the relatively discursive first of these rather unbalances what follows), the piece offers an intriguing synthesis of folk-like elements (there are no traditional sources quoted) with the virtuosity of the Concerto. That Grimal gave such a commanding account while also directing the orchestra proved to be a calculated risk which paid off handsomely.

Les Dissonances at George Enescu Festival 2015
Photograph: CatalinaFilip

After the interval, Beethoven’s Fifth was given an energetic but never over-driven reading. Authentic in spirit though not necessarily in practice, the musicians ensured rhythmic definition in the first movement was not lacking, then brought nobility and even irony to the Andante. The Scherzo, its controversial repeat rightly taken, maintained impetus right up to a breathtaking transition into the Finale – rhetoric gauged so there was no hint of overkill, not least in a coda whose joyousness came over unfettered at the end of this gripping performance.

The second concert by Les Dissonances on Monday the 14th followed a not dissimilar format, and it was an astute move to commence with Schnittke’s Moz-Art à la Haydn – among his most effective instances of poly-stylistic thinking, with the ensemble’s haphazard assembly made more pertinent by the arrival of a ‘false conductor’ towards its climax. More serious fare came in Enescu’s Symphonie Concertante, his early and audacious attempt to fuse the three movements of the archetypal Concerto into a single entity and also to derive their main themes from the expansive ‘ur-melody’ at the outset. Xavier Phillips gave a finely sustained and cumulative reading, arguably more successful in the ruminative initial sections than in the more capricious ‘finale’, if leaving no doubt as to the ingenuity of Enescu’s conception.

The second half comprised a further C-minor Symphony: Brahms’s First, and what was another absorbing account – not least in the implacable tread of a ‘slow’ introduction that almost pre-empted the main Allegro. This latter was a shade too dogged, whereas the Andante exuded poise and elegance to spare, and the Allegretto a speculative restraint which made it an ideal entrée into the Finale. From its ominous opening to a triumphal yet never bombastic coda, this was superbly rendered and further confirmation of Les Dissonances as a statement of intent.

The second of the Monte Carlo Philharmonic’s concerts on Wednesday the 16th saw it fronted by Cristian Mandeal, the most high-profile Romanian conductor of his generation, in an enterprising sequence which began with Bartók’s Hungarian Sketches – seldom heard now that overture-length items are largely absent from programmes, and given here with winning verve. Now that Pascal Bentoiu’s realisations of the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies are gaining ground, Enescu’s Third Suite is no longer the isolated orchestral work of his maturity, yet the ‘Villageoise’ remains intriguing in its juxtaposition of insouciance with, in the central scenic evocation and moonlit interlude, music of an extraordinary artlessness and sophistication. No stranger to this piece, the MCPO responded with alacrity to Mandeal’s authoritative direction.

After the interval, Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde – not so many decades ago the most often heard of its composer’s Symphonies, here given an impressive reading with Vincent Wolfsteiner ardent if inevitably strained but Ruxandra Donose enviably assured. The highlight, as it needed to be, was ‘Der Abschied’ – Donose’s deftly applied eloquence enhanced by Mandeal’s consummate shaping of this expansive final movement towards its transcendent close. Mahler-conducting is rarely more unobtrusive and insightful than this.

Piotr Anderszewski at George Enescu Festival 2015
Photograph: CatalinaFilip

Of the piano recitals towards the end of the Festival, that by Piotr Anderszewski on Saturday the 19th certainly did not disappoint for all its departure from the advertised programme. Having recently won praise for his recording of J. S. Bach’s English Suites, it was good to hear the Polish pianist in the Sixth Partita – its nominal sequence of dance movements suffused with formal cohesion as underlined its anticipating the sonata format to come. Echoes there may be of this format in Szymanowski’s Métopes, yet this product of its composer’s impressionist phase also evinces an elusiveness of structure and expressive flights of fancy that needs to be rendered as fluidly as possible; something to which Anderszewski accorded due emphasis in an account that married textural precision and emotional obliqueness to decidedly mesmerising effect.

Schumann duly opened the second half rather than closing the first, though the whimsical Papillons had been replaced by the Geistervariationen at the opposite end of the composer’s output – its unsettling amalgamation of limpid figuration and stark harmonic progressions exquisitely rendered without undue sentimentality. Then, in place of Bartók’s14 Bagatelles, Anderszewski opted for Bach’s Sixth English Suite – less severe in manner than its Partita counterpart and to which this fastidious pianist brought animation and genuine playfulness.

Christian Zacharias at George Enescu Festival 2015
Photograph: CatalinaFilip

The final recital on Sunday the 20th brought the return of Christian Zacharias – a familiar figure at recent Editions of this Festival, who accordingly secured a more than capacity attendance. The programme offered a personal take on the Classical-Romantic repertoire with which the German pianist is most often associated: the first half featured both of Brahms’s Rhapsodies (Opus 79), vibrant yet also searching pieces from the high-noon of their composer’s creativity and given with real passion, which here bookended Schumann’s Kreisleriana. Among the more overtly discursive instances of his early piano cycles, this is music more distinctive for the manner in which the composer conveys his musical ideas than for the ideas themselves, though Zacharias drew the sequence into a viable unity without limiting the range of expression encountered.

After the interval came Schubert’s B-flat Piano Sonata (D960), the last in his concluding trilogy of such pieces and one whose intrinsic elusiveness had not lessened over time or with (over-?) familiarity. Zacharias took a spacious while never flaccid view of the opening movement, in which the absence of the exposition repeat was balanced by the emotional depth invested into the development and consequently heightened reprise. If the remaining three movements were less arresting, there was still never any doubt as to the lucidity or finesse of this reading.

Operas at the Palace

Bavarian State Opera perform Richard Strauss’s Elektra at George Enescu Festival 2015
Photograph: CatalinaFilip

Concert performances of opera continue to feature prominently at the Festival (not least two of those by Monteverdi as Athenaeum late-night events), with the present brace a reminder of its ambitious scheduling. Sunday the 13th saw the Bavarian State Opera in Richard Strauss’s Elektra – its lavish forces easily accommodated by the Palace expanses, for all that this acoustic projected the music’s dynamic force at the expense of spatial perspective or textural subtlety. The cast was fronted by Elena Pankratova, initially a little lightweight in the title-role yet gaining all the while in conviction such that her final scene had the requisite ecstasy and vulnerability. Anne Schwanewilms amply conveyed the doubt and anguish of Chrysothemis, though René Pape was overly circumspect as Oreste and Ulrich Ress relatively underwhelming as Ägisth.

Not so Agnes Baltsa, a regular at the GEF for over half-a-century, whose Clytemnestra was finely sung as well as consummately acted. The Academic Radio Chorus made a telling contribution, with Sebastian Weigle – a conductor of German opera with whom to reckon – secured playing of unsparing impact and burnished expressiveness from the Bavarian State Orchestra. Suffice to add the absence of any visual context was rarely apparent given the overall excellence of the music-making.

It would be idle to pretend that Monday the 14th’s presentation of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck was quite on this level. This is still an unfamiliar opera in Bucharest and while not denying the commitment of the George Enescu Philharmonic in conveying the visceral immediacy of its often-complex writing, the playing was often fallible technically. The cast had no real disappointments – with Michael Volle eloquent and empathetic in the named role, and Evelyn Herlitzius among the most engaging current exponents of Marie. Arnold Bezuyen was in his element as the prattling hypochondriac that is the Captain, and ideally complemented by Martin Winkler as a ruthless and obsessive Doctor. There was a fine showing from Marius Vlad Budoiu as the aggressively unpleasant Drum Major, with the smaller roles well taken.

For making the performance a success in spite of its intermittent failings, Leo Hussian must take greatest credit. His pacing of the drama was swift though never inflexible, with due emphasis on salient motivic detail through to an intense account of the culminating interlude prior to the final scene. This was impressive conducting by any standards, making one anticipate Hussain’s stewardship of Enescu’s Oedipe when it receives a first UK staging by the Royal Opera next spring. This comparably exacting opera looks to be in safe hands.

Concerts at the Palace

Valery Sokolov, Yuri Temirkanov & Saint Petersburg Philharmonic at George Enescu Festival 2015
Photograph: CatalinaFilip

The GEF continues to feature a wealth of international orchestras and conductors, many making repeated visits. One such is the St Petersburg Philharmonic, here with long-term conductor Yuri Temirkanov, whose second concert on Friday the 11th was a typically Russian pairing. Valeriy Sokolov, winner of the George Enescu International Competition in 2005, gave an enjoyable if far from memorable take on Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto – at its best in a dextrous first movement cadenza and engaging take on the Finale.

As a conductor who has ostensibly sought to refine his interpretations of a select repertoire, Temirkanov conveys a magnetic if sometimes unyielding presence. There was no mistaking the degree of his control throughout Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, not least in the lengthy opening Moderato that unfolded as an unbroken span towards its central climax before returning to its initial musing introspection. The ensuing Scherzo felt inhibited in its aggression – with the Allegretto, here an uneasy compromise between slow movement and intermezzo, lacking the deadpan humour its composer surely intended. If the Finale’s slow introduction did not avoid inertia, its continuation built convincingly towards a decisive close – thereby setting the seal on a reading that impressed and nonplussed in equal measure.

Elisabeth Kulman with Wiener Philharmoniker & Semyon Bychkov  at George Enescu Festival 2015
Photograph: CatalinaFilip

The Vienna Philharmonic, taking in the Festival as part of a European tour, was heard in two concerts with Semyon Bychkov. That on Tuesday the 15th concluded with Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, the ‘Pathétique’ – which here received a well-disciplined yet, particularly in the first movement, uninvolving reading – though the Scherzo came to life in its coursing second half, and the Finale exuded no mean pathos at a not unduly slow tempo.
The highlight of this concert came in the first half, Elisabeth Kulman reinforcing her status among leading younger mezzos with a deeply affecting account of Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder. Less a cycle than a sequence of songs related only by concept, this emerged as an unusually cohesive entity thanks to Kulman’s warmly sustained tone – not least in the enervated languor of ‘Im Treibhaus’ and confiding intimacy of ‘Träume’, Bychkov finding unusual clarity in Felix Mottl’s decent orchestration in all save the last-named. Short measure as it stood, this concert opened with the unadvertised addition of Haydn’s ‘Trauer’ Symphony (No.44) – at its best in the starkly imitative Minuet and an Adagio of understated pathos, though Bychkov rather skated over the subtleties of the animated movements on either side.

The same Haydn Symphony, no less, had been slated to begin the concert on Wednesday the 16th – a conceit which only the Vienna Philharmonic would likely opt for and expect to get away with. This second account was audibly less focussed in the Adagio, and though the outer movements – the Finale in particular – had marginally greater impetus, the strings sounded less than fully at ease. The soprano Valentina Naforniţa then joined the VPO for the Sept Chansons de Clément Marot, most often heard of Enescu’s three published song collections and one ranging from brief syllabic settings to intricate scenas. Heard in the translucent orchestration by Theodor Grigoriu, it left a restrained yet indelible impression – Bychkov drawing a poised response that underpinned Naforniţa’s elegance to telling effect.

Would the second-half account of Brahms’s Third Symphony had been nearly as rewarding. Bychkov’s reading with the VPO at the London Proms just a week earlier had hardly been revelatory, but the middle movements had a certain eloquence and the playing could hardly be faulted. Not so in Bucharest, with only the Andante avoiding routine and with the Finale earthbound and with a fair number of missed entries: not a performance that orchestra or conductor will want to remember.

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Vasily Petrenko with violinist AlexandruTomescu at George Enescu Festival 2015
Photograph: CatalinaFilip

There was no sense of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Vasily Petrenko ‘filling in’ the schedule, as the enthusiastic reception to their concerts confirmed. The first of these, on Thursday the 17th, opened with Respighi’s Fountains of Rome – much the most restrained of the composer’s ‘Roman Triptych’, and while there was no lack of vigour or opulence in the ‘Triton’ and ‘Trevi’ depictions, it was the introspective evocations on either side that left a more lasting impression; not least through Petrenko obtaining a genuine pianissimo in the closing pages. AlexandruTomescu, leading Romanian violinist of the younger generation, then played Glazunov’s Concerto, its understated three-movements-in-one format delineated with finesse yet also incisiveness during the resolute final section.

Best known for his recorded cycle of Shostakovich’s Symphonies, Petrenko is no less an advocate of Rachmaninov. The First Symphony was given a trenchant and insightful reading – underlining the emotional and dynamic extremes of the opening movement, while bringing a teasing irony to the intriguing Scherzo. The highlight was a slow movement of rapt intensity, the strings making the most of their eloquent cantilena, and then the Finale proceeded from its brazen opening to its fateful conclusion with a conviction typical of this account as a whole.

The RLPO concert on Friday the 18th consisted of two large-scale works from less than a decade apart. Credit to Simon Trpčeski for eschewing the ‘warhorse’ connotations of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto – delivering a first movement whose passionate outbursts were located in a subdued context, an Adagio whose continuous variation was deftly defined, and a Finale whose demonstrative outer sections were less striking than its central improvisatory ‘cadenza’. Orchestra and conductor, frequent collaborators with Trpčeski, proved unstinting in support.

After the interval came Enescu’s Third Symphony, in which Petrenko and the RLPO matched and, in some respects, surpassed the fine account given by Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic at this venue during the 2013 Festival. There were drawbacks – strings, notably cellos and double basses, were a little under strength in intricately divided passages – but the playing left little to be desired. Petrenko took a forthright approach to the initial Moderato, expressive ambivalence channelled into a purposeful development and a coda of irresistible élan. The central Vivace exuded malevolence prior to its climax of ear-splitting impact, countered by the final Lento with its diaphanous textures and haunting vocalise (the George Enescu Philharmonic Chorus in fine form) which brought about a beatific conclusion: a gripping account of a great work.

The final brace of evening concerts at the Palace came courtesy of the Royal Concertgebouw, another Orchestra with enduring links to the GEF and conducted by the much-vaunted Andris Nelsons. The first concert on Saturday the 19th consisted of Bartók’s First Violin Concerto, its two movements enticingly rendered by Janine Jansen – whether in the ethereal musings of its initial Andante, or the teasing obliquities of the ensuing Allegro – and astutely accompanied by Nelsons who was fully aware of the coded intimacies that inform this music at every turn.

Andris Nelsons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at George Enescu Festival 2015
Photograph: CatalinaFilip

Quite a contrast, indeed, with Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony – hardly the rarity it once was, and a work of which Nelsons assuredly had the measure. The lengthy opening Allegretto was initially a touch foursquare, but the (in)famous ‘war machine’ episode built inexorably towards its stark culmination, while the brooding reprise and yearning coda were well-judged. The Moderato, its wistful demeanour shattered by the martial central section, was integrated effectively into a trajectory continued by the Lento whose recurring chorales and threnodies yielded truly Mahlerian pathos. There was little to fault in the Finale, not least its intensive crescendo to the crowning yet unforced apotheosis, if with just a lingering doubt as to whether such graphic music is entirely suited to this most cultivated of orchestras.

The RCO’s second concert on Sunday the 20th seemed anti-climactic by comparison. Brahms’s Second Symphony is hardly first-half material, and not least when Nelsons presided over a good yet unremarkable account – its opening movement lacking any sense of crisis in the development or restiveness in the coda, then the Adagio tending towards blandness. The third movement Allegretto did not lack piquancy, while the Finale was finely judged on its way to a rousing coda, but there was little here that could be termed memorable.

The ‘No.2’ concept linking this programme continued after the interval with Enescu’s Second Romanian Rhapsody. Much less often heard than is its predecessor, this represents the ‘song’ element as opposed to the other’s ‘dance’: its languorous opening gesture and fervent ensuing melody recur in subtle altered guises prior to the evocative close, and Nelsons clearly enjoyed putting the Concertgebouw through its paces in what was doubtless unfamiliar fare. Not so the Second Suite from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé – at its best in a radiantly unfolding ‘Lever du jour’, then the ‘Pantomime’ featured elegantly agile flute-playing and, finally, ‘Danse générale’ recovered from a slightly flat-footed opening to close in effervescent fashion.

E Il Topo at Victoria Art Center with David Sorin (centre)
Photograph: from Ilina Schileru

Now into its third Edition, the EBienale was once again curated by Ilina Schileru and centred on the Victoria Art Center, Mircea Ciutu and A. Drăghia created a fusion of swing jazz and abstract expressionism in Benny Jackson, while Sorin David considered the endless divide of war and peace in La vie endouce. Florin Frătică investigated transience in Grandpa, whereas Iulia Ghiţă looked at human passivity through finite and infinite time-spans in Good Morning. Bianca Haţeganu examined the relationship with her mother via memories of participating in the Meloritm television show with Song for my Mother, while Ana-Maria Huluban invited viewers to assess their relationship with the natural world in natuRE. Andra Nedelcu viewed images of his studio from his stay in Paris on returning to Bucharest with Nuages et pensées, while Dimitris Palade took a sideswipe at bureaucracy with Labor Protection Rules in the EU. Magda and Bogdan Pelmuş combined installation and sculpture to evoke W. H. Auden in Mappings of Anxiety, and Dan Raul Pintea enshrined an objectified (?) salacity in Flash Love.

Added to this was the ongoing semantic project Into the Primitive, featuring a collaboration by Frédéric Liver and Claudiu Cobilanschi, while the Ann Art Gallery featured a selection of found objects and video images in the surprisingly playful retrospective by Alex Galmeanu entitled Images of Nostalgia. An interesting premise given that Romania in 2015 marks 25 years since the collapse of the Ceauçescu dictatorship, and one that may well be further explored in the fourth EBienale for 2017 – for which one hopes that funding (state or private) will more readily be forthcoming.

Overall, this Edition of the George Enescu Festival lived up to expectations and was also a fitting farewell for Ioan Holender who ended his artistic directorship after a decade and five Editions at the helm. The 2017 Festival sees two conductors taking over the reins – Zubin Mehta (a mainstay of the GEF for half a century) as Honorary President and Vladimir Jurowski as Artistic Director. Jurowski will open the Twenty-Third Edition with a concert performance of Enescu’s Oedipe that features the London Philharmonic Orchestra (its two concerts at the 2013 Festival made such a favourable impression), and there will be at least thirty works by the Romanian composer performed over its course. Hopefully, too, there will be the chance to hear works by Pascal Bentoiu, whose 90th-birthday falls earlier in 2017 and whose advocacy of Enescu – through his study of the music and realisation of unfinished pieces, not least the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies – has proved second to none. Propitious times, then, for what continues to be one of the most significant music celebrations in Europe.

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