Piano Quartet No.2, Op.30
Piano Quintet, Op.29 [UK premiere]
Largo risoluto No.2
Scherzo (Holding Your Own)
The Solomon Ensemble [Anne Solomon & Rick Koster (violins), Ralf Ehlers (viola), Rebecca Gulliver (cello) & Dominic Saunders (piano)]
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 25 October, 2002
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Having become relatively well represented on disc, the music of Romanian-born George Enescu (1881-1955) is gradually making inroads to the concert hall. The present recital featured two of the most significant chamber works from his later years: a period of intermittent but frequently inspired creativity.
Completed in 1944, the Second Piano Quartet is among the most elusive of Enescu’s mature pieces, akin to late Fauré in refinement of mood if not in its intricate counterpoint. The three movements adapt sonata, ternary and rondo forms in often-unexpected ways, allowing thematic transformation to pursue a continuous trajectory over the half-hour span. The Solomon Ensemble had the measure of the opening movement’s brooding unease and the rarefied sensuousness of the ’Adagio’, though the closing ’Allegro’ could have had a touch more ’agitato’, as well as greater momentum to reinforce the affirmative outcome. Technically, there was much to admire – not least the many instances where Enescu draws the strings into a translucent band of sound, complemented by piano arabesques which distil their Romanian folk inflections to an exquisite degree.
In common with several of Enescu’s later works, the Piano Quintet had a protracted genesis – going through numerous drafts before completion in 1940. In size and scope, it recalls the First String Quartet in expansiveness and overall emotional sweep. The lengthy opening movement sustains its concentration through an involved – and involving! – process of development of the two main themes, with contrasts in mood and pacing being one of degree. Its successor is more animated in every respect, alternating a robust main theme with episodes of a more inward nature – and drawing to a decisive, even defiant conclusion. Again, playing of real expressive focus and textural finesse.
In between these major works, and effectively straddling the interval, came a collection of short pieces by Ives. Although he could embrace the European tradition much more directly than is often supposed, what we heard here was the composer at his most recalcitrant. Except, that is, for the winsome string quartet ’Intermezzo’ from his 1899 cantata The Celestial Country, in which Ives took on the example of Stainer’s The Crucifixion and – thankfully for posterity – lost. Otherwise, the calculated anarchy of Hallowe’en and the serious high-jinks of ’Holding Your Own’ came in absolute and welcome contrast to the high-flown eloquence elsewhere.
An absorbing and successful concert from a versatile group. Good news that The Solomon Ensemble has recorded the two Enescu works for release on Naxos early next year.