Piano & harpsichord
CD Review: Enescu Complete Works for Violin and Piano
May 11, 2016, 12:00 am
Enescu: Complete Works for Violin and Piano, Volume 2. Axel Strauss, Violin. Ilya Poletaev, piano. Naxos 8.572692 (Total Time: 67:01)
George Enescu (1881-1955) is little-known today, except for his brilliant Romanian Rhapsodies. In his time, however, he burst on the scene as a child prodigy, graduating from the Vienna Conservatory at the age of 13. Although he played piano, violin and cello at a very high level, he ultimately concentrated on the violin and became one of the most celebrated soloists of his generation. He was also a prodigious composer – a student of Massenet and Fauré – and at the age of 16, presented a concert in Paris devoted entirely to his own compositions.
Although Enescu never received the adulation he deserved for his music during his lifetime, in recent years his music is being “rediscovered”, as it were, and these two new recordings should help to move along the Enescu revival.
Performers Axel Strauss and Ilya Poletaev are both members of the faculty at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University; this is the second of their two CDs devoted to Enescu’s complete works for violin and piano.
The Violin Sonata No. 1, written when the composer was only 16 years old, is a very attractive piece, especially the gorgeous slow movement. This is followed by five short pieces, each one of which would make an attractive encore, especially the very beautiful Ballade Op. 4a. The CD concludes with a much later work, Impressions d’enfance Op. 28 (Impressions of Childhood), which is probably the most original work on the album. Each movement in this 23-minute suite has a charm of its own. One movement actually features birdsong played mostly by the violin; the effect is delightful, presaging the kind of thing that Messiaen was to do years later. I would encourage violinists looking for offbeat repertoire to take a look at this terrific work.
Strauss and Poletaev have a deep understanding of Enescu’s music; unfortunately, the recording favours the piano and makes the violin sound recessed and lacking in body.