Sonata for Viola da gamba and Continuo in D, BWV1028
Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A minor, D821
Adagio and Allegro in A flat, Op.70
Sonata No.2 for Cello and Piano
Adrian Brendel (cello) & Nicola Eimer (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 4 October, 2007
Venue: Romanian Cultural Institute, Belgrave Square, London SW1
Given under the auspices of the recently established Enescu Society, this concert marked the first of a series of chamber concerts seeking to raise the profile of the composer.
The concert-room on the first floor of the Romanian Embassy proved an ideal setting, taking chamber-music back to its first principles with the seventy-strong audience creating an intimate setting, on the same level as Adrian Brendel and Nicola Eimer.
Brendel refined his sound to suit the close acoustic, while Eimer found the right dynamic on the ‘baby’ grand piano. Both were taxed to their expressive and technical limits in George Enescu’s deeply passionate Second Cello Sonata, but neither were found wanting. Such is the strain on the near-continuous cello part that Brendel required a page-turner, his melodic contribution continuous and often in long-breathed phrases.
The cellist spoke beforehand of Enescu’s “obsessive approach to detail” that required a different expression marking on the score every couple of bars, but as he observed the resultant expression was somehow “fairly improvised”.
The first movement Allegro was rich in tone and full-bodied, its harmonic language redolent of César Franck and its legato cello theme countered by a more mysterious, chromatic piano line captured by Eimer. The tranquil C major coda felt hard-won, and staying in that key the scherzo pushed forward urgently while glancing sideways to Debussy, Brendel manfully fighting against the piano’s dissonance.
The Andantino, also marked ‘senza lentezza’ (without slowness), found Brendel alone in soliloquy, Eimer only joining for hushed accompaniment several minutes in, the mood of introspection, growing to intense passion before subsiding peacefully. The finale offered a sense of homecoming, its melodic ornamentation and inflections drawing parallel with Bartók’s folk-based works.
Certainly the sonata deserves more exposure, and in Brendel and Eimer it finds artists that have got beneath its surface. In their new-found Enescu obsession, as Brendel termed it, the pair unearthed a Nocturne by the 16-year-old composer, which they gave as a graceful encore.
Leading up to this main act were more traditional works for cello and keyboard. Brendel used the intimacy of the venue to his advantage for J. S. Bach’s Sonata, the Andante particularly well judged alongside the controlled exuberance of the faster movements.
Brendel and Eimer then had fun with Schubert’s Sonata for Arpeggione, a now-defunct instrument that is akin to a bowed guitar, with the high-register writing, an important feature of this work, exceptionally well defined. The reflection of the first two movements gave way to humour, and several false endings amused the audience in the finale.
To preface the Enescu was Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, with Brendel exhibiting a rich cantabile sound that suited the slower music well, before the ardent outpourings of the Allegro rang out.
Enescu Society concerts will take place at the Romanian Cultural Institute on the first Thursday of the month – and the next promises an in-depth look at Enescu’s music for violin.