Tuesday, May 30, 2017

George Enescu - Piano Trio; Piano Quintet; Aria and Scherzino (Remus Azoitei; Schubert Ensemble)


Composer: George Enescu
  1. Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 29: I. Con moto molto moderato -
  2. Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 29: Andante sostenuto e cantabile
  3. Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 29: II. Vivace, ma non troppo -
  4. Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 29: L'istesso tempo
  5. Piano Trio in A minor: I. Allegro moderato
  6. Piano Trio in A minor: II. Allegretto con variazioni. Allegretto moderato
  7. Piano Trio in A minor: III. Andante - Vivace amabile
  8. Aria and Scherzino (ed. Scherban Lupu): Aria. Lent (in D minor)
  9. Aria and Scherzino (ed. Scherban Lupu): Scherzino. Assez vif (in B minor)

The Schubert Ensemble
Simon Blendis, violin
Alexandra Wood, violin
Douglas Paterson, viola
Jane Salmon, cello
Peter Buckoke, double-bass
William Howard, piano
Remus Azoitei, violin (8, 9)

Date: 2013
Label: Chandos



All of the works on this disc have been recorded before, though not often. The Piano Trio in A Minor, in a performance by the Brancusi Trio on Zig-Zag Territoires, received strong recommendations from Radu Lelutiu, Peter Rabinowitz, and yours truly, all in 35:6, and subsequently made Rabinowitz’s 2012 Want List.

This new recording of the Trio featuring members of the estimable Schubert Ensemble, a group whose virtues I’ve extolled in prior issues, gives the Brancusi a good run for its money. I have to confess that in auditioning the Brancusi’s CD for review, the overly resonant piano, which Lelutiu mentioned, didn’t particularly register with me. But now that I’m able to compare it to this new Chandos recording, I realize what Lelutiu meant. The Schubert’s players in this new release are better balanced, resulting in a sound that’s more pellucid. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Schubert’s performance is better than the Brancusi’s, but, as noted in all three reviews, Enescu’s A-Minor Trio (1911–1916) represents a break from his earlier works, and its harmonic densities and contrapuntal textures are more audibly penetrated by Chandos’s clearer, more transparent recording.

The A-Minor Piano Quintet, a much later work dating from 1940, had to wait almost a quarter of a century for its first performance, which took place in 1964, nine years after Enescu’s death. This relatively late score in Enescu’s catalog seems to return to the composer’s Romantic roots and to his studies with Gabriel Fauré. The French influence is strongly felt, but the music’s Gallic urbane fluency is met with an earthier Romanian robustness, resulting in a rare blend of aloof refinement and fiery passion.

Martin Anderson, who reviewed a recording of the Quintet performed by the Solomon Ensemble in 27:2, may have been right when he said that “George Enescu is the greatest 20th-century composer whose greatness is not generally recognized.” Whether that’s so or not, I can’t say—there may be other candidates equally worthy of such ranking—but Enescu’s sole Piano Quintet is, in my opinion, a masterpiece. I don’t have the Solomon version on Naxos reviewed by Anderson, but I do have Gidon Kremer’s Kremerata Baltica recording on Nonesuch, coupled with Enescu’s C-Major Octet. I’ve never been a Kremer fan; his playing is too aggressive and acerbic sounding for my taste. So, the Schubert Ensemble’s performance on this new release comes as a welcome replacement. The players find the perfect balance and blend between the music’s earlier mentioned refinement and passion.

The Aria and Scherzino is the earliest work on the disc, dating back to 1908, and it too, like the Quintet, was never performed during the composer’s lifetime. In two very brief movements lasting a combined total of five-and-a-half minutes, the piece is said to be partly inspired by Romanian folkdances and, once again, the influence of Enescu’s teacher Fauré—at least according to the album note. The folk-dance part is evident in the Scherzino , which is clearly a spirited, rhythmically propelled piece, but I’m afraid I don’t hear Fauré in the rather too schmaltzy Aria , which somehow suggests to me what Elgar’s Sospiri would sound like if it were arranged by Wolf-Ferrari for the soundtrack of a soap opera. Perhaps the reason it was never performed in Enescu’s lifetime is because he was embarrassed at having written it.

That said, Romanian-born violinist Remus Azoitei, a student of Itzhak Perlman and Julliard’s Dorothy DeLay, wrings from the solo part every last drop of tearful heartbreak in the Aria , and in the Scherzino , Azoitei springs into action with playing that’s as sprightly and flamboyant, in a good way, as it was sentimental, in a way that fit the music, in the Aria.

I can’t recall a time that the Schubert Ensemble has disappointed me, and their performances on this disc are no exception. This is a significant addition to Enescu’s chamber music discography, and a beautifully produced recording that is strongly recommended to all.

-- Jerry Dubins, FANFARE

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / RECORDING: *****


George Enescu (19 August 1881 – 4 May 1955) was a Romanian composer, violinist, pianist, conductor, and teacher, regarded as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century and Romania's most important musician. He was the youngest student ever admitted to the Vienna Conservatory at the age of seven. Many of Enescu's works were influenced by Romanian folk music, his most popular compositions being the two Romanian Rhapsodies. He was also a noted violin teacher. Yehudi Menuhin, Christian Ferras, Ivry Gitlis, Arthur Grumiaux, Serge Blanc, Ida Haendel and Joan Field were among his pupils.


Remus Azoitei is a Romanian violinist who now lives in London. He studied with Itzhak Perlman, Dorothy DeLay and Masao Kawasaki at the Juilliard School in New York. His teachers also included Daniel Podlovsky and Maurice Hasson. He is violin professor at the Royal Academy of Music and Artistic Director of the Enescu Society in London. performs on a violin made by Niccolo Gagliano in 1735. Over the years, Azoitei has developed a successful artistic partnership with pianist Eduard Stan. They recorded together the first ever entire repertoire for violin and piano by George Enescu.


The Schubert Ensemble of London (formed 1983 in London) is a popular quintet with an unusual makeup: a standard piano quartet with the addition of a double bass player, the same instrumental forces needed to perform Schubert's Trout Quintet. The group's choice of repertory staples has generally favored works by Romantic composers, but it is also well known for its advocacy of contemporary music. The current membership of the group is as follows: William Howard (piano), Simon Blendis (violin), Jane Salmon (cello), Douglas Paterson (viola), and Peter Buckoke (double bass).


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