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Chopin & Enescu

Chopin: Twelve Etudes, op. 10
Enescu: Suite Nr. 2 D major, op. 10
Chopin: Twelve Etudes, op. 25
Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody Nr. 1, op. 11/1 (arranged for piano by the composer)

Luiza Borac (piano)
Romanian Cultural Institute, London, 3 April 2008.

If Enescu and Chopin share anything it is the precociousness of their musical talents, composition not being the least of them. But it might be argued precociousness promises little when it lacks heart and soul within its foundation. Fortunately both composers wanted for nothing in this respect either. For this and much more Luiza Borac is to be thanked, as the concert repeatedly showed the depth of feeling and instinctual musicality that is brought to her performances.

The striking originality of Chopin’s opus 10 etudes was hard to ignore: each a mini manifesto for breaking the mould of what the form could become, rather than merely accepting tradition. The reference of Liszt as dedicatee – another revolutionary of piano forms and technique - seems to underline the point.

Luiza Borac in her recital for the Enescu Society of London launched into the C minor allegro (no. 1) with arresting aplomb. Her integrity of interpretation  was, if anything, deepened in the more reflective of the etudes. The second etude brought out the evenness of her fingering against nuanced chords, whilst the third etude sustained and built the dynamism of its phrases naturally and the sixth possessed acutely judged shadings. The eighth benefited from careful exploration of the piano’s bell-like upper register and the ninth found Borac reigning in its emotion through contrast with nobility of tone in the left hand part. The eleventh poured fourth with the unforced beauty of a sun-dappled stream, the allusion thereby revealing much in the way of the music’s integral beauty. In overall terms, much contrast was to be relished in the remaining etudes: the fourth found much of the attack evident in the first, the fifth had more than a flash of quick-fire brilliance about it, the tenth showed Chopin’s most Romantic face, and the twelfth closed the set full of swagger, yet pleasingly devoid of arrogance, that allowed Borac’s formidable technique to be fully enjoyed.

Enescu’s second piano suite, written in 1901 when he was barely twenty, is a work cast in four movements. The opening Toccata immediately announces both the majestic nature of Enescu’s conception and the ferocious demands made upon the pianist, and Luiza Borac met them head on. Swept along under its own impetus, the music gives a unique take on a Baroque model to show Enescu’s knowledge of form but his ability to be daringly different within its confines. Luiza’s playing drew a fine line through that delicate balance to beguile and impress. The Sarabande is more nuanced and was enhanced greatly by effortless clarity found in Luiza Borac’s playing. By contrast the Pavane, though still audibly under the influence of Fauré, adds a distant hint something Chopinesque to Enescu’s musical palette, translating the delicacy of a rose’s perfume into lingering melody. The closing Bourrée was altogether more lively, and rightly so. Its imposing left hand chords, a favoured feature in Enescu’s piano writing, gave due substance to the performance, particularly during the climactic closing minutes.

As Chopin’s second set of twelve etudes were played by Luiza Borac a recurring notion occurred: these are works in some ways more conventional than their predecessors, as they are more directly concerned with the standard technical problems covered by etudes.  There are leaps in the fourth, thirds in no. 6, sixths in no. 8, and octaves in nos. 9 and 10. Routine though formed no part of Luiza Borac’s playing and raised these ’exercise pieces’ to the realm Chopin intended them for.  

Enescu’s own arrangement of the orchestral First Romanian Rhapsody presents severe challenges for any pianist’s musicality. Contrasts of tone and tempo call for acute judgement of what works best for a single. The last time I encountered the work in concert the result was a somewhat hackneyed and hurried traversal Luiza Borac chose to avoid over-playing the piece in terms of volume or unduly forcing the tempo changes. The intricate combination of dances and songs that form the rhapsody can after all provide much in the way of excitement by themselves. Careful shading of the various elements contributed tellingly to Borac’s success.

Two encores: Enescu providing the first with the evocative scene that is the third piano suite’s final movement “Carillon Nocturne”. Over an open sustaining pedal chords ring out atmospherically to movingly conjure the sound of bells echoing across a mountainous landscape. Liszt’s transcription of a Schubert lied concluded the evening, still delicately atmospheric after more than two hours of intense playing.

Evan Dickerson

Reviews of Luiza Borac’s recordings:
Enescu: http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/cddvd/Enescu_piano.htm
Enescu vol 1: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2003/Sept03/Enescu_piano.htm
Enescu vol 2: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Mar06/Enescu_AV2081.htm
Schubert and Liszt: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classRev/2005/May05/Schubert_borac_AV2061.htm
Schumann: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2007/Feb07/Schumann_Borac_GBELZ0200011.htm