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Enescu: Piano Trio, Piano Quintet / Schubert Ensemble

Enescu / Schubert Ensemble / Azoitei
Release Date: 09/24/2013 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10790   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  George Enescu
Performer:  Remus Azoitei
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schubert Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

***** (out of 5)
This is a superb performance [of the Quintet], alive to the music's every nuance, and pianist William Howard emerges as a very impressive primus inter pares… A very special release.

– BBC Music Magazine

ENESCU Piano Quintet in a, op. 29 1. Piano Trio in a 2. Aria and Scherzino for Solo Violin, String Quartet, Double Bass, and Piano 3 1-3 Read more class="ARIAL12">Simon Blendis (vn); 1,3 Alexandra Wood (vn); 1,3 Douglas Paterson (va); 1-3 Jane Salmon (vc); 3 Peter Buckoke (db); 3 Remus Azoitei (vn); 1-3 William Howard (pn) CHANDOS 10790 (60:44)

All of the works on this disc have been recorded before, though not often. The Piano Trio in A Minor, in a performance by the Brancusi Trio on Zig-Zag Territoires, received strong recommendations from Radu Lelutiu, Peter Rabinowitz, and yours truly, all in 35:6, and subsequently made Rabinowitz’s 2012 Want List.

This new recording of the Trio featuring members of the estimable Schubert Ensemble, a group whose virtues I’ve extolled in prior issues, gives the Brancusi a good run for its money. I have to confess that in auditioning the Brancusi’s CD for review, the overly resonant piano, which Lelutiu mentioned, didn’t particularly register with me. But now that I’m able to compare it to this new Chandos recording, I realize what Lelutiu meant. The Schubert’s players in this new release are better balanced, resulting in a sound that’s more pellucid. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Schubert’s performance is better than the Brancusi’s, but, as noted in all three reviews, Enescu’s A-Minor Trio (1911–1916) represents a break from his earlier works, and its harmonic densities and contrapuntal textures are more audibly penetrated by Chandos’s clearer, more transparent recording.

The A-Minor Piano Quintet, a much later work dating from 1940, had to wait almost a quarter of a century for its first performance, which took place in 1964, nine years after Enescu’s death. This relatively late score in Enescu’s catalog seems to return to the composer’s Romantic roots and to his studies with Gabriel Fauré. The French influence is strongly felt, but the music’s Gallic urbane fluency is met with an earthier Romanian robustness, resulting in a rare blend of aloof refinement and fiery passion.

Martin Anderson, who reviewed a recording of the Quintet performed by the Solomon Ensemble in 27:2, may have been right when he said that “George Enescu is the greatest 20th-century composer whose greatness is not generally recognized.” Whether that’s so or not, I can’t say—there may be other candidates equally worthy of such ranking—but Enescu’s sole Piano Quintet is, in my opinion, a masterpiece. I don’t have the Solomon version on Naxos reviewed by Anderson, but I do have Gidon Kremer’s Kremerata Baltica recording on Nonesuch, coupled with Enescu’s C-Major Octet. I’ve never been a Kremer fan; his playing is too aggressive and acerbic sounding for my taste. So, the Schubert Ensemble’s performance on this new release comes as a welcome replacement. The players find the perfect balance and blend between the music’s earlier mentioned refinement and passion.

The Aria and Scherzino is the earliest work on the disc, dating back to 1908, and it too, like the Quintet, was never performed during the composer’s lifetime. In two very brief movements lasting a combined total of five-and-a-half minutes, the piece is said to be partly inspired by Romanian folkdances and, once again, the influence of Enescu’s teacher Fauré—at least according to the album note. The folk-dance part is evident in the Scherzino , which is clearly a spirited, rhythmically propelled piece, but I’m afraid I don’t hear Fauré in the rather too schmaltzy Aria , which somehow suggests to me what Elgar’s Sospiri would sound like if it were arranged by Wolf-Ferrari for the soundtrack of a soap opera. Perhaps the reason it was never performed in Enescu’s lifetime is because he was embarrassed at having written it.

That said, Romanian-born violinist Remus Azoitei, a student of Itzhak Perlman and Julliard’s Dorothy DeLay, wrings from the solo part every last drop of tearful heartbreak in the Aria , and in the Scherzino , Azoitei springs into action with playing that’s as sprightly and flamboyant, in a good way, as it was sentimental, in a way that fit the music, in the Aria.

I can’t recall a time that the Schubert Ensemble has disappointed me, and their performances on this disc are no exception. This is a significant addition to Enescu’s chamber music discography, and a beautifully produced recording that is strongly recommended to all.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Piano and Strings in A minor by George Enescu
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schubert Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916 
Quintet for Piano and Strings in A minor, Op. 29 by George Enescu
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schubert Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; Romania 
Aria and Scherzino by George Enescu
Performer:  Remus Azoitei (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schubert Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: circa 1908 

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