Friday, May 26, 2017

George Enescu - Poème roumain; Vox Maris; Voix de la nature (Cristian Mandeal)


Composer: George Enescu
  1. Poème roumain, Op. 1: I. Mouvement
  2. Poème roumain, Op. 1: II. Mouvement
  3. Vox Maris, symphonic poem, Op. 31
  4. Voix de la nature, Op. posth.: Nuages d'automne sur le forêts

Florin Diaconescu, tenor (3)
"George Enescu" Bucharest Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra
Cristian Mandeal, conductor

Date: 1997
Label: Arte Nova



George Enescu (1881–1955) is considered by many who know his music to be one of the least-known great composers of the 20th century. The reasons for this are multiple and complex. He was one of the most versatile musical talents of his time; and, while he may have made his most significant mark as a violinist, he was also an accomplished pianist, conductor, and teacher. Certainly, these other activities detracted attention from his work as a composer. The huge success of his early Romanian Rhapsodies was a mixed blessing: he always felt they overshadowed his more serious, more characteristic music. He was a native of rural Romania who studied in Vienna and Paris, where he settled. While it shows various distinct influences, his music defies categorization. Perhaps it is this last aspect of his art that posterity has found most difficult: as illustrated by the works on this CD, his musical language evolved from a Romanian-accented French to something more like a French-accented Romanian. His affinity for French musics, encompassing Debussy’s influence as well as Franck’s, along with his lifelong connection to the music of his native country, results in a sound (or, better, sounds) unlike that of any other composer; the closest parallel I can suggest is that of Szymanowski, who likewise has never quite broken into the “basic repertoire.”

The three works on this disc represent the earliest and latest periods of Enescu’s career as a composer. The Romanian Poem was first performed in 1898; Vox maris, or “Voice of the Sea,” was written in the 1920s, although he may have tinkered with it for years thereafter. The movement of Voix de la nature given here, written in the 1930s, is the only one of three to have been completed.

The titles of these pieces tell us much about their musical content. Enescu referred to op. 1, a “Symphonic Suite,” as describing “the distant impression of familiar images of home.” The work is explicitly programmatic, even narrative: without difficulty one can hear church bells, chanting priests, a shepherd’s pipe, a cock crowing, and so forth. The second part includes a folk-like passage that unmistakably prefigures the Romanian Rhapsodies. The ending, based on the Romanian national anthem, is reminiscent of Liszt; other passages remind the listener of the Debussy of Printemps as well as such composers as Dukas and Magnard. Enescu’s early flair for orchestral color is augmented by the use of a wordless male choir.

Vox maris is also narrative music, depicting the experience of a sailor who drowns in a storm, followed by calm and the voice of the Sirens. It is impossible not to recognize the influence of La mer, yet the music could not have been written by Debussy any more than it could by any other composer besides Enescu. In all three pieces Enescu displays a singular musical voice with a flair for atmosphere and, in the later works, a stylized treatment of tonality that is highly chromatic without ever threatening to abandon tonality altogether. If the music has any fault, it may be the lack of a distinctive melodic profile; in any event, it is music that demands careful and repeated listening.

The performances here were recorded in 1997; like many titles appearing currently on this label, they apparently circulated in previous issues, but on a geographically limited basis. They still sound fine, other than the hideously out-of-tune chimes, and the Bucharest orchestra that was named for Enescu in the year of his death plays well. The booklet is slim, with only a two-page essay on the music and a one-page blurb on the orchestra; there are no texts for the brief passages for solo tenor and soprano in the first two works, respectively. The soprano is not even named—an act of mercy, as far as I’m concerned: if this is how the Sirens really sounded, Odysseus must have been at sea far too long.

Gripe du jour: the front cover touts this as a “world premiere recording.” It is not; all three works are or have been easily available elsewhere. In particular, the Poème roumain appears in a collection of Enescu’s best-known orchestral works conducted by Lawrence Foster on an Apex import. Still, for its low price and ease of acquisition, this disc may be a good choice for listeners interested in experimenting with the music of this challenging but intriguing composer.

-- Richard A. Kaplan, FANFARE

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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.


Cristian Mandeal (born April 18, 1946 in Rupea, Romania) is a Romanian conductor and pianist. He studied conducting, piano, and composition at the Bucharest Music Academy, and later studied in Berlin with Karajan (1980) and with Celibidache in Munich (1990). Since 1991 Mandeal has served as permanent conductor of the "George Enescu" Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra. He has recorded full symphonies of Anton Bruckner, Johannes Brahms and especially the complete symphonic works of George Enescu.


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