George Enescu Piano Quartets – Schubert Ensemble [Chandos]

0 of 5 stars

Piano Quartet No.1 in D, Op.16
Piano Quartet No.2 in D minor, Op.30

Schubert Ensemble [Simon Blendis (violin), Douglas Paterson (viola), Jane Salmon (cello) & William Howard (piano)]

Recorded 6 & 7 December 2010 (Op.16) and 12 &13 February 2011 in Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, UK

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: June 2011
Duration: 67 minutes



The music of George Enescu (1881-1955) seems at once to embrace tradition and its past masters, yet also impresses with its freshness and innovativeness as well as its complete lack of fad or whimsy; no idea is predictable and is enwrapped in Enescu’s entirely personal yet recognisable language. This very welcome release from Chandos of his two piano quartets, while not their first recordings, finds the members of the Schubert Ensemble to be entirely sympathetic to Enescu’s musical world and to be very persuasive advocates of it – both for seasoned Enescuites and interested newcomers.

The large-scale Piano Quartet No.1 (1909), forty minutes in this performance, is a hot-house of emotions, notable for the rapture of the first movement’s expressive lines and Enescu’s sheer confidence of building the music in large paragraphs with a generous and impassioned soul that is extraordinarily intense. Just occasionally he (completely unwittingly of course) anticipates Shostakovich’s much-later Piano Quintet; and if you can imagine a coming together of Fauré’s music and that of Rachmaninov, then that may get us a little closer to helping to ‘reference’ Enescu (at least at this time of his career) without really pinning down someone who can’t (and shouldn’t) be pigeonholed and yet who speaks directly and in volumes. After the fervour of the opening movement the slow one retreats (if only somewhat) to greater intimacies while also striving to searing spine-tingling passages, and the finale mixes irresistible rhythmic élan with nostalgic lyricism.

Piano Quartet No.2 is from 1944, and is dedicated to the long-dead Fauré (1924) – À la mémoire de mon maître Gabriel Fauré (so at least we can trace the influences of one composer on Enescu) – and proves as enigmatic and as fascinating as the Frenchman’s most-elusive creations (Enescu was Romanian, by the way, and is buried in Paris). This is music that seems a world away, yet it’s so easy to succumb to its expressiveness (sometimes natively folk-inflected) and complex detailing without ever being quite sure as to where one exactly is. The Schubert Ensemble musicians know where they are though; they are trustworthy and committed guides through some thoroughly engrossing music. The earlier work wears its heart on its sleeve; the later piece needs to be searched out and dumfounds in its greatness.

George Enescu – also a superb violinist (his pupils included Christian Ferras, Ivry Gitlis, Arthur Grumiaux, Ida Haendel and Yehudi Menuhin), a noted conductor and someone who could have had a distinguished career as a pianist had he chosen to – remains a composer nearer to the periphery than to the centre-ground. Chandos’s current release – which includes a booklet note by Martin Anderson (no relation) that is exemplary in its enlightenment and observation – can only help further the fully deserved cause of Enescu’s music.

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