enescu piano prospero

George Enescu (1881-1995)
Piano sonata in F sharp minor Op 24. No. 1 (1924)
Suite No. 2 in D major Op. 10 ‘Des cloches sonores’ (1903)
Piano sonata in D major Op. 24 No. 3 (1935)
Daria Parkhomenko (piano)
rec. 2021, Rolf Liebermann Studio, NDR, Hamburg
Prospero PROSP0055 [70]

It is good to find Enescu being increasingly recorded. He certainly deserves it, as he is the Romanian equivalent of the Hungarian Bartók, the Czech Janáček and the Pole Szymanowski. There are understandable reasons for the delay in his recognition. For one thing, he earned his living as a virtuoso violinist, which reduced the time available for composition. Then he was a perfectionist, who left many works unfinished or in sketch form and so unpublished. Happily, it has been possible to complete several of these and they have been recorded. But finally, and possibly most importantly, his idiom is elusive and it takes some time to get used to it. Although he did draw on Romanian folk music, his two early Romanian Rhapsodies, while probably still the best-known of his works, are not really typical. He began as a follower of Brahms and Fauré, but his mature music is post-impressionistic, and one can hear debts or perhaps parallels with Debussy, Scriabin and Szymanowski, although he has a strange and haunting quality all his own. His piano writing is both elaborate and subtle, and it requires great finesse in touch and pedalling as well as, occasionally, sheer power.

He composed a good deal for the piano, and complete recordings of his piano music run to three discs. Here, however, we have here his three most important work: the two sonatas and the second suite. We begin with the first sonata. This was written by Enescu during a break from working on his masterpiece, the opera Oedipe. It is in three movements, the first of which was reworked from an earlier work. It opens with a theme in octaves, rather in the manner of the Liszt sonata, and this leads to an elegant but sombre paragraph. The mood gradually lightens and a contrasting second subject appears, delicate, ethereal and high in the treble. There is a pause before the development which concentrates on the opening material and builds up to a powerful climax with crunchy chords. There is a varied recapitulation before a brooding and sinister coda.  The second movement is a scherzo marked Presto, mordant and staccato rather in the Prokofiev manner, savage and ironic in mood. The finale opens with an ostinato bell sound which persists through quite different material, in the manner of Ravel’s Le gibet. The mood is tranquil, in contrast to its two predecessors and the whole is an impressive work.

Before the other sonata we have an earlier work, the Second Piano Suite, subtitled ‘Des cloches sonores.’ (The First Piano Suite is a very early work, really juvenilia.) There are four movements. The sleevenote compares the opening Toccata to Bach’s organ toccatas with its massive chords and octave passages. The following Sarabande sounds more French, though it is much more elaborate than Debussy’s Sarabande. The Pavane suggests Ravel, though it is also more elaborate than Ravel’s Pavane. The final Bourrée is vigorous, with adventurous harmony. It concludes the suite in an exuberant and joyous mood.

Before discussing what is always known as the Third Piano Sonata, I should explain that there is no Second. This would have been Op. 24 No.2. Enescu allocated the opus number and said he had the work in his head, but he never wrote it down, and after his death only a few sketches were found. The Third Sonata we have was written during a particularly difficult time in Enescu’s life, when his wife suffered a severe bout of mental ill-health – indeed she suffered increasingly as the years went on. However, the sonata shows nothing of this and is, as the composer said, ‘a sonata full of joy.’ Again, there are three movements. The first is fast, vivacious and indeed cheerful. The second features winding chromatic lines full of the most elaborate ornaments, which have some relation to Romanian folk music. The finale is a kind of Rondo on a toccata-like main theme, with several episodes and variations. Again the mood is light, though the piece goes at a tremendous speed.

Daria Parkhomeno was born in Russia of Romanian parents and now lives in Hamburg, She has won numerous prizes, including first prize at the George Enescu piano competition in 2018, and she has performed widely in Eastern Europe. This is her debut recording. It is a most auspicious beginning. She has the technique to manage these often very difficult pieces, requiring at times considerable delicacy in touch and at other times strength and power and she is also able to clarify the often complex writing and to maintain a sense of the whole. She has obviously studied these pieces for a long time and offers really eloquent and convincing performances. Indeed, I think her version of the Third Sonata is not inferior to the famous one by Lipatti, which has for long been the benchmark for recordings of this work. The recording is good and the sleevenote helpful. Recommended with enthusiasm.

Stephen Barber

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