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Enescu, Ravel, Schubert & Schumann

R. Schumann: Sonata in D minor
M. Ravel: Sonata in G
major; Tzigane
G. Enescu: Impressions d'Enfance Op 20
F. Schubert: Fantaisie in C D934

Philippe Graffin (violin) & Claire Désert (piano)

Romanian Cultural Institute London 4 February 2010

The Romanian Cultural Institute located at No.1 Belgrave Square provides an imposing venue for the Enescu Society’s concerts; highly recommended as a way to enjoy an evening out - in the interval, nibbles and wine free of charge as well as artwork to browse.

The programme was introduced by Evan Dickerson, who has made special study of George Enescu - Romania's national composer.

The room where the concert took place was unusual, being L shaped with the performers located in the middle. This poses the performers some problems; to which limb of the L should they project their sound? It would have been interesting to have sat in different branches of the L shape to test how the balance differed.

Philippe Graffin certainly knows what he wants musically; however, rather than coaxing the sound out of his violin it seemed as if he was battering it into submission. This rough raucous playing worked for the gypsy-esque Tzigane, and the evocative ‘The bird in the cage and the cuckoo on the wall’ from Enescu’s Impressions d’Enfance was spellbinding.

Unfortunately, to play Schubert well requires refined lyrical playing with perfect intonation; perhaps too much to expect at the end of such a demanding programme. Another worry was Philippe’s hunched posture whilst playing; one can only hope it will not lead to back problems.

The star of the evening was the pianist, Claire Désert. who played the entire programme with unfaltering sensitivity. It was nice to hear Schumann and Schubert being played on an instrument lighter than a Steinway; Claire used this to her advantage, coaxing a plethora of colours from the piano.

Horia Vacarescu and Constantin Sandu will be playing a programme of Corelli, Beethoven, Chausson and Enescu at the Enescu Society’s next concert on the 4th of March.

Anna Michel

Debussy, Enescu, Ravel

DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Violin Sonata (1916-17) Nocturne et Scherzo (1882) – re-adaptation by Graffin; Il pleure dans mon Coeur; La fille aux cheveux de lin; Beau Soir- transcr Hartmann
Minstrels - transcr Debussy
ENESCU (1881-1955) Impressions d’enfance Op.28 (1940)
RAVEL (1875-1937) Tzigane for violin and luthéal (original version) (1924); Sonata Op. posthumous (1897)

Philippe Graffin & Claire Désert
(piano & lutheal)

Avie CD AV2059



A rare and wonderful disc. Particularly arresting is Ravel's Tzigane, accompanied on the luthéal, the same instrument with its four 'stops' upon which Beveridge Webster accompanied Samuel Dushkinin 1924 (now in the Brussels Museum of Musical Instruments). This increases the gypsy exoticism of the piece in spades and beats the orchestral version.

Of perhaps even greater importance is this duo's interpretation of Enescu's suite of childhood reminscences, in its ten sections as detailed as any of the popular orchestral symphonic poems. Heard in concert, played without a break, it sounded rather discursive, indeed rambling, until it reached its portentous end with emphatic tonic chords repeated almost as in the protracted ending of Beethoven's 5th !

On the way, there are caged bird and cuckoo clock, a beggar in the street, a stream at the bottom of the garden, wind in the chimney at night and much else... For proper appreciation it should be listened to against the track numbers and descriptions in the unusually well documented insert booklet.

Other items include a good account of the Debussy violin sonata and transcriptions of smaller Debussy pieces.

Graffin & Désert are fine in partnership (as we have heard live in recital) and this production has a lavishly illustrated 32-page booklet, a strong recommendation for buying the disc rather than just downloading tracks...


Corelli/Kreisler, Beethoven, Chausson & Enescu

A. Corelli / F. Kreisler: La Folia
L. van Beethoven: Sonata in A Major, Op.47 "Kreutzer"
E. Chausson: Poème
G. Enescu: Sonata no.2 in F minor, Op.6

Horia Vacarescu & Constantin Sandu

Romanian Cultural Institute London, 4 March 2010

Another long, virtuosic programme which left me wishing for less music played with more poetry.

La Folia can be be played either with Kreisler’s warmth and charisma or with the subtlety of the baroque; seeing as it is arguably more Kreisler’s transcription than Corelli’s original, the latter is probably more appropriate.

Horia Vacarescu went for neither approach; going just for sheer virtuosity, I found his interpretation left the listener uninvolved. Similarly Beethoven lacked the perfect intonation and singing tone required for classical works. The Kreutzer sonata is a work full of drama which was not brought out in this performance; watch Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Fazil Say for a controversial but certainly gripping rendition.

The second half was a different matter entirely. Maybe not the best performance of Chausson’s Poéme I have ever heard, but it certainly drew the listener in. Things continued to improve with Enescu’s rarely played Sonata no. 2; the highlight being its quirky Finale played with wit and panache. Any doubts left about Horia’s playing were put to rest by the swashbuckling encore.

Having listened to two concerts held at the Romanian Cultural Institute I can only conclude that the acoustic does not favour the violin; on both occasions the violinist’s tone has sounded forced. In contrast the piano sounds beautifully resonant, but on this occasion drowned the violin for some of the performance; more rehearsal time needed checking the balance.

Anna Michel