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On the Riviera, a well deserved homage to Enescu

Auditorium Rainier III
10/23/2005 -  
Johannes Brahms : Piano Concerto n°1 in D minor
George Enescu : Orchestral Suite n°1 in C major (opus 9), 1st and 2nd movements,
7 songs on poems by Clement Marot, (opus 15) for tenor and orchestra,
Romanian rhapsody n°1 (opus 11/1)

Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, Lawrence Foster (conductor),
Barry Douglas (piano), Marius Brenciu (tenor)

It was an excellent idea to pay homage to the Romanian composer George Enescu, who died 50 years ago, an icon in his country but still seldom performed in the West. How many Orchestras have done so in their current concert season? Let’s hope that this special year (also see here) will mark the beginning of a well deserved “rediscovery”, since, quoting his fellow countryman, conductor Cristian Mandeal :

"He belongs firmly to the great creative artists of the twentieth century. […] Some, like Janacek, Sibelius, Szymanowski, Mahler even, took a while to enter the public consciousness and Enescu’s time really has yet to come. This is just the beginning.”

Here the tribute was starting with … a Brahms concerto. After all, that’s not any more far-fetched than associating Bach, Haydn and Stravinsky, for example, as in many traditional concerts. Historians could indeed add that Enescu played in a student orchestra conducted by the German master. However, in this case one might think the real reason was to attract bigger crowds ; it missed the goal since the audience was unfortunately rather sparse, and yet the choice of Enescu’s opus was anything but daring ! The piano concerto, which could be assessed as a meeting point between sublime moments and musical pathos, was adequately performed. Barry Douglas’ touch was stolid and weighty, at times inspired (and perfectly embodied by the pianist’s Lisztian profile). He played, as an encore, the Irish folk tune “The Moreen”, marking his strong commitment toward his Northern Ireland origins.

The second part was fully devoted to George Enescu, certainly one of the most complex but likeable composers of the XXth century. As he proclaimed it, he could not be well catalogued (“which school ?”), therefore he was not to be appreciated, combining as he did French and German influences with training in the Romanian folklore heritage. The Orchestral suite number 1, only partially played for the sake of concert length, and the 7 Songs, mark the adoption of the above influences. Marvellous Suite, with his stunning Prélude à l’unisson, written by a young prodigy of 15. Delightful Songs, spanning a wide range of emotions, musical jewels weaving archaic modes and Debussy. In this last vocal piece, the tenor Marius Brenciu, quite familiar having already recorded it, offered a lively and poetic performance. For those chansons though one might have preferred a less metallic timbre.

Finally, the concert ended with the ageless first Romanian Rhapsody. The composer had mixed feelings about it : following its initial fame he realized that this early work –he was just 20 when writing it- narrowed his recognition as a serious composer and made it difficult for his later output to be accepted. Towards the end of his life Enescu said he was sick of it and criticized requests for yet more recordings as being only “big business". The American conductor Lawrence Foster is of Romanian parentage. Proselytizing Enescu, celebrated as such in the composer’s native land, he came back to the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic of which he was the Musical Director only a few years ago. After the popular melody wittily played by the clarinet-oboe duet, he led the full orchestra into an orgiastic prestissimo dance, devilishly bouncing on the podium, rousing the audience to ecstatic applause. As the French say, Pourquoi bouder son plaisir ?, why shun your pleasure? Happy anniversary, Mr Enescu.

Alain Dornic



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