Here’s an important, adventurous release. Enescu’s Second Symphony, composed around 1912-14, received only a single performance during the composer’s lifetime. Lasting nearly an hour, it’s enormously complex and horrendously difficult to play. The idiom, ostensibly, is Richard Strauss on steroids. Enescu’s scoring is relentlessly opulent, but what makes the piece so difficult on first hearing is a combination of contrapuntal busyness and the composer’s desire to keep all aspects of the music–rhythm, tonality, timbre, dynamics–in an almost constant state of flux. Consider the opening of the finale (sound sample below), ostensibly a march, but the music never quite settles down for any length of time until the last chord, some fifteen minutesRead more later.
This doesn’t mean that the work isn’t worth hearing. Quite the contrary. Enescu was a genius, and his tendency to over-write, evident even in his simplest pieces such as the Romanian Rhapsodies, is simply one aspect of a mind so full of ideas (and so allergic to literal repetition) that his music practically always sounds as if bursting at the seams. So the symphony takes some getting used to. It is music for the true connoisseur, and while it has been recorded a few times previously, you’d be hard pressed to find a better performance than this one. Hannu Lintu and the Tampere Philharmonic cope with the music’s challenges confidently. Most importantly, they play the music with remarkable clarity while keeping it up to tempo. The abundance of incident never sounds merely fussy, and the main melodic thread never vanishes amidst the thickets of notes.
The Chamber Symphony for 12 Instruments, a late work, couldn’t be more different. Now the melodic ideas are elusive, gnarly, almost atonal in spots, the argument highly compressed. Enescu’s love of counterpoint is still in evidence, but textures are lean, even austere. Taking only about fifteen minutes in total, the work is frankly strange, but it makes a valuable coupling in such a sympathetic performance. Ondine’s engineering is excellent in both symphonies. As I said, this isn’t music for casual listening, but it certainly belongs on the shelf of every serious collector.