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Enescu's Suites for Piano

Enescu's Suites for Piano

Georges Enescu (1881-1955)
Suites for Piano

Suite for Piano in G minor, Op. 3 (1896)
1. Prelude
2. Fugue
3. Adagio
4. Presto
Suite for Piano in D major, Op. 10 (1901-1903)
5. Toccata
6. Sarabande
7. Pavane
8. Bourree
Suite for Piano/Pieces Impromtues, Op. 18 (1913-1916)
9. Melodie
10. Voix de la steppe
11. Mazurk melancolique
12. Burlesque
13. Appassionato
14. Choral
15. Carillon nocturne

Luiza Borac, piano
Recorded in the Stadttheater, Lindau (Bodensee),
Germany, 2003
Released August 2003
AVIE 0013 [79:06]

Although not currently of great reputation, Georges Enescu was a titan
of music and humanity during his life. As with Mozart, Enescu was a
child prodigy of great abilities. Pablo Casals, his frequent concert
partner hailed Enescu as "the greatest musical phenomenon since Mozart".

Enescu's primary instrument was the violin, and he was considered
one of the best of his era. He even took Yehudi Menuhin under his wing
and was clearly Menuhin's mentor in many avenues of life. Yet, Enescu's
pianism was also highly touted, and Cortot was simply amazed that Enescu
had a better piano technique than he possessed. Enescu also was a
brilliant teacher and conductor, fully deserving the designation of 'man
for all seasons'. Lastly, he possessed a photographic memory and could
play an entire work after just one reading.

In today's world, Enescu is most known for his two Romanian Rhapsodies,
but Enescu grew increasingly fed up that these two early pieces overshadowed
his other compositions. Given his high esteem from musical comrades,
it is a sad commentary that he died totally penniless in a Paris rented
room having just a bed and chair.

What of Enescu's music? His works were initially along traditionalist
lines with a growing sense of impressionism and experimentation with
tonal centers as he matured. Quite obvious from listening to his works
is an endless flow of melody similar to Mozart and a strong contrapuntal
element of great intricacy.

When the subject comes up concerning who might be declared the next
*great composer*, my sentiments are always with Scriabin. However,
Enescu would be a close second. Of course, this brings up the question
of why he hasn't been one of the most popular classical composers of the
20th century. One possible answer is that Enescu composed very little
after World War I. Another is that his music is decididly understated
and intricate. It has the capacity to charm, amaze, and enlighten as
much as the music of any other composer of the 20th century, but listeners
need to spend much time with his music to realize all its glories.

The three Suites for Piano on this new AVIE disc cover a fairly wide
period of time and development for Enescu. At the age of 15, he composed
the Suite for Piano in G minor "in the olden fashion" which basically
translates into the baroque form. However, this is no ordinary reflection
of baroque style, for Enescu was a master composer as a teenager. The
four-movement work holds up fairly well to the great Bach himself and
eclipses all of the keyboard works written by Telemann and a host of
other composers of the high-baroque period.

The G minor begins with a ceremonial and demonstrative Prelude having a
contrasting section of sublime tenderness and beauty. The 2nd Movement
is a good old-fashioned Fugue that emulates Bach very much and would
make the old master proud. The 4th Movement is highly energized with
spit-fire phrasing that requires a virtuosic technique.

The 3rd Movement Adagio of the G minor Suite draws me into its luxurious
web every time. This movement is a perfect example of a trait common
to the greatest composers - making much out of what seems like very
little. What we have here is a slow and potentially monotonous piece
of music that Enescu gives life to through his continuous flow of melody
and a trance-like inevitability. The music reminds me of highly dignified
funeral procession, and I sure wouldn't mind it being played at my

Overall, I'm amazed at the inspiration that the fifteen year old Enesco
conjures up in the G minor Suite. To write a Bachian piece of music
that rivals the best of the Baroque period is very impressive. Also the
G minor is as wonderful a work as any that Mozart wrote in his teenage

With the D major Suite, Enescu dispenses with baroque form and uses
a style somewhat in the manner of Faure with blossoming impressionist
phrasing. A salon atmosphere is prevalent at the beginning of each
movement, although deeper expression eventually is forthcoming. Overall,
this Suite highlights rich sonorities, harmonic flexibility, and long
musical lines resulting in an intoxicating brew. The D major also
represents a huge increase over the G minor Suite in terms of range of
colors and themes. Enescu is clearly approaching his prime with music
that yields new rewards on each additional hearing.

The 1st Movement Toccata has all the above characterisitics plus the
imagery of sun-bursts which are very attractive and uplifting. The
Sarabande begins in an even more innocent manner than the Toccata but
soon applies some fine Scriabin-like tension and urgency offered in
improvisatory fashion.

I find the Pavane an amazing piece of music. Each time I listen to it,
I locate new thoughts and directions. It has a trilled basic theme of
sadness and subtlety, and mixes contemplation and flourishes most
effectively. Actually, it reminds me very much of the best piano music
of Granados, and Enescu was only in his early 20's when he composed the
work. The final movement of the Suite in D major is a vivacious and
upbeat Bourree that is quite exciting with its motorized rhythmic flow.
When listening, expect to feel as if you've been filled with 'super-premium
octane'. That's an excellent feeling, especially since it doesn't include
noxious fumes.

Up to this point, we have Enescu inhabiting the world of barqoue music,
then the styles of music prevalent around the turn of the century. With
the Suite Op. 18, Enescu creates his own soundworld, sort of an alternative
dimension not visible to the naked eye. The Suite is not really atonal,
but Enescu plays loose and teases us with his tonal centers, deviating
frequently from them.

The 1st Movement of the Opus 19 Suite is a short two-minute "Melodie"
that is tantalizing and mysterious throughout and reminds me of a cross
between Debussy and Shostakovich. Again, Enescu's understated approach
is so alluring. The 4th Movement "Burlesque" is also quite memorable
with its frisky/motorized rhythms replete with swells from below and
impetuous gyrations.

The last two Movements on the disc have been singled out by other
reviewers for praise. The "Choral" has mysterious harmonies covered in
gorgeous phrasing, and the "Carillon nocturne" presents monastery bells
over a bed of melody with piano resonance most effectively utilized. As
outstanding as these two pieces are, my favorites remain the 1st Suite's
Adagio and the 2nd Suite's Pavane. In any case, every piece on the disc
has much to offer.

AVIE's pianist is the young Romanian Luiza Borac who is well up to
the task of conveying Enescu's soundworld in each Suite; I particularly
love how she gives such a calm dignity to the "Adagio". After weeks of
listening to the disc, I still keep playing this one piece over and over.
The exceptional sound quality doesn't hurt either - rich and highly

Comparisons aren't necessarily absent in the catalogue, but I couldn't
get my hands on the one alternative recording of all three Suites. Hence,
I can't say that Borac gives us the best performances of these works.
But I can assure readers that she plays splendidly and in an idiomatic

Don's Conclusions: Georges Enescu is a treasure who has been woefully
disregarded except for his Romanian Rhapsodies. Yet, there are quite a
few of his recordings on the market including his Symphonies and a host
of chamber works. Do yourself a treat and enter the world of one of the
greatest composers of the 20th century. Starting out with Luiza Borac's
performance of the Suites for Piano isn't a bad way to commence the
journey, and I consider the disc essential for piano enthusiasts. All
others are strongly recommended to take the Enescu plunge. For those
already hooked on Enescu, just keep buying.

Don Satz

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