enescu piano suites avie

Déjà Review: this review was first published in October 2003 and the recording is still available.

George Enescu (1881-1955)
The Three Piano Suites
Suite No. 1 in G minor ‘Dans le style ancien’ Op. 3 (1897)
Suite No. 2 in D major Op. 10 (1901)
Suite No. 3 ‘Pièces Impromptues’ Op. 18 (1913-16) [36.54]
Luiza Borac (piano)
rec. 2003, Stadttheater Lindau, Bodensee, Germany
Avie AV0013 [79]

Enescu’s three Piano Suites chart the development of this most protean of composers from 1897, his sixteenth year, to 1916. Whilst only the last of them gives a foretaste of the mature Enescu of the opera Oedip or the Piano Sonatas, all this music is imaginative, vital and idiomatic – something only to be expected from this most remarkable of musical polymaths, the composer-violinist-conductor whose own piano technique was the envy of Alfred Cortot, no less!

Just now Luiza Borac’s Avie account has the field more or less to itself. Aurora Ienei on Olympia is theoretically available but difficult to obtain. Cristian Petrescu’s, from his controversial but charismatic 3-CD set of the complete piano music on Accord, has been unaccountably deleted; the Second Suite is certainly available in mixed recitals by Monica Gutman (Claves) and Daniel Goiti (Symposium) but neither of these is specially worth seeking out. Even the composer’s own recording of a handful of movements from the first two suites has, with the demise of Dante-Lys, gone temporarily underground.

Fortunately, Borac’s attractively produced CD is more than just a stopgap, enhanced as it is by Martin Anderson’s notes and a neat essay on the technical difficulties of the Suites from the pianist herself. If what Anderson aptly describes as the “crazy Bachian quality” of the First Suite dans le style ancien is rendered a touch somnolently, there is clarity in both playing and recording to compensate. The disconcertingly bland Adagio is the only movement where Borac stumbles, failing to catch its enigmatic, deadpan quality. Here we certainly miss Ienei’s poise, compromised though that was by Olympia’s tinny recording.

In the more Frenchified neo-classical games of the Second Suite, Borac treads equally cautious ground. Though the majestic opening Toccata lacks nothing in grandeur there’s a hint of prissiness about her over-pointed articulation. The wistfulness of the elegant Pavane is brought out well, though partially at the expense of that bercé (rocking) rhythm Enescu asks for and captured in his own, more flowing version.

The Pièces impromptues are not an integrated suite but a collection of independent compositions written between 1913 and 1916. They inhabit a different sound world altogether, more complex and personal, shot through the Slavic richness associated with Enescu’s later music. Most substantial are the linked Choral and Carillon nocturne which close the suite, fading to the sound of church bells echoing enharmonically through the Romanian summer night. A magical effect, precisely evoked by Borac. The reflective element in many of the Pièces suits the personality of her playing well, though once again in faster movements such as the Mazurk mélancholique (not enough Mazurka and too much melancholia) rhythmic elasticity can be lacking.

This is absorbing music, outstandingly recorded. If Luiza Borac does not always rise to some of the insights of some of her earlier Romanian compatriots, her interpretations are consistently lucid and thoughtful. Especially given the absence of competition, this is a self-recommending, quality issue.

Christopher Webber

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