Next week Naxos will release the second recording in its two-CD set presenting the complete works for violin and piano by the twentieth-century Romanian composer George Enescu. Amazon.com is currently accepting pre-orders for this new album. This project was initiated by violinist Axel Strauss, performing with pianist Ilya Poletaev. Enescu was both a virtuoso violinist and a major teacher, whose students included Yehudi Menuhin. For his part, Strauss is currently Professor of Violin at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Montreal.
The compositions on the second volume both precede and follow those on the first volume. It includes the first of the violin sonatas (Opus 2, composed in 1897), as well as three short pieces composed between 1895 and 1899, (The latest of these, “Aubade,” was, however, not arranged for violin and piano until 1903.) At the other end of Enescu’s life there is the haunting “Andantino malinconico,” composed in 1951 for a sight-reading test administered by the Paris Conservatoire. There is also the suite of ten miniatures, the Opus 28 composed in 1940 and retrospectively entitled Impressions d’enfance.
Enescu is probably best known for the distinctive Romanian folk character of many of his compositions, particularly the two orchestral rhapsodies he wrote in 1901 and published together as his Opus 11. More of that spirit was present on the first volume than on this new release, where it is best represented by the 1917 “Hora Unirii.” Indeed, Enescu turns away from his “roots” with a particularly stimulating tarantella (one of the early short pieces, composed in 1895). In his booklet notes Poletaev suggests that Enescu composed this piece to demonstrate that his virtuosity as a performer could rise the to level of his predecessors, such as Niccolò Paganini, Henri Vieuxtemps, and Henryk Wieniawski, not to mention Pablo de Sarasate, who was still drawing crowds when Enescu wrote his tarantella.
Poletaev’s notes also claim that the Opus 2 sonata is “almost entirely dependent on the musical world of Beethoven and Brahms.” My own ears approached the piece slightly differently. The first two movements, Allegro vivo and Quasi adagio, seem to reflect an interest in the relatively modest violin repertoire of Franz Schubert, while the third movement advances into the chamber music of Robert Schumann. Both composers are clearly in that “musical world” that Poletaev cited; but, where the violin repertoire is concerned, they both constitute departures from “the usual suspects.” Listeners are, of course, invited to draw their own conclusions and may even enjoy the fact that doing so may require more than a single listening to this new album.