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Piano Quintet, Op. 29 (1940); Piano Quartet No. 2, Op. 30 (1943/44)
The Solomon Ensemble Anne Solomon; Andrew Roberts; Ralf Ehlers; Rebecca Gilliver & Dominic Saunders
Naxos 8.557159 [63 mins]

George Enescu (1881-1955) was a great musical polymath, less famed as a composer than he wished (in my experience, his music can be worryingly uneven - q.v. Radu Lupu at Lucerne). I was familiar with him in my youth as violinist partner to his pupil, the boy Menuhin, in the still evergreen recording of the Bach double concerto; later, in 1952/53, as a conductor of sensitivity and authority, despite being bent nearly double with a spine affiction which restricted his movements. In his liner notes, Richard Whitehouse writes about these subtle chamber works, their 'density of thought and subtlety of expression not easy to grasp fully at first hearing, but intriguing enough to repay repeated listening'. The repertoire of piano quartets and quintets is not a huge one, so good ones should not be jettisoned.

The Naxos website is so well organised that for cyber readers more detailed introductory descriptions in reviews are redundant. Navigating to Composers/Enescu will take you straight to this CD, with tracks to hear and Richard Whitehouse's comprehensive essay.

I prefer here to quote Whitehouse briefly, instead of plagiarising him as is the common way. Each of these works is in three expansive movements totalling around half an hour. The quintet's first movement 'sustains concentration over a lengthy time-span - - with subtle contrasts in mood and pacing'. There is a darker, noble andante sostenuto e cantabile, after which 'the succeeding Vivace ma non troppo is more animated - - alternating a robust, dance-like main theme with episodes of a more inward nature'. Each of the three movements of the 2nd piano quartet 'adapts respectively sonata, ternary and rondo forms in unexpected ways, so that the transformation of themes is pursued continuously - - typical ‘late’ Enescu: witness the many instances where the composer draws the strings into a translucent continuum of sound, their combined timbre complemented, rather than opposed, by piano writing in which Romanian folk inflections are distilled to a rarefied degree.'

The Solomon Ensemble was founded by two musicians who had worked on Enescu's music with Menuhin, violinist Anne Solomon - herself a polymath in the Enescu mould, with degrees in Philosophy and Medicine - & pianist Dominic Saunders. This interesting CD is well played and equally well recorded. It is clearly the culmination of long labours of love, and Naxos should take justifiable pride in having supported it. What more can you want for the expenditure of (very slightly under) £5?

© Peter Grahame Woolf

© Peter Grahame Woolf