George Enescu’s compositions, overshadowed by his success as a violinist, conductor and teacher, remain largely neglected, though in some measure that is also due to the mixed stylistic allegiances that influenced the composer’s esoteric and often complex scores.
The String Octet, composed when Enescu was 19, is an amazingly accomplished work for one so young, and came as a summation of the influence ingested from many late-Romantic composers. With its rich harmonic invention, it comes even closer to the musical world of Richard Strauss in this version for string orchestra by the conductor Lawrence Foster. The Octet is well served by the Monte Carlo strings and Foster keeps tempos pressing forward with admirable urgency.
Completed 26 years later, and in a totally different style, the Third Violin Sonata transports us back to Enescu’s native Romania. His choice of popular tunes as the thematic material stresses the importance of India and Egypt in the country’s cultural background, and by his meticulous instructions to the performers, Enescu hoped to recreate the sounds of the gypsy musicians that inspired his work. Valery Sokolov does allow himself a degree of freedom, as the composer had done in his recording, yet it takes him right to the heart of the score. His playing is technically immaculate, but it has passion and is as earthy as that of any folk fiddler. In Svetlana Kosenko he has a superb partner, whose playing at times adds a sense of a cimbalom shimmering in the background.
With a good recording throughout, this disc makes an essential purchase for admirers of Enescu’s music.