Enescu: String Octet, Op. 7; Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 29

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COMPOSERS: Enescu
LABELS: Nonesuch
WORKS: String Octet, Op. 7; Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 29
PERFORMER: Kremerata Baltica
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79682-2
What is it about string octets that seems to bring out the best in precociously gifted composers? The famous example by the 16-year-old Mendelssohn is perhaps musical history’s most miraculous instance of youthful genius; but the Two Pieces for octet which Shostakovich completed when he was 19 are scarcely less remarkable in their inventiveness and youthful vitality than his contemporaneous First Symphony; and George Enescu’s C major Octet, composed at the same age, is a deeply impressive piece on a much larger scale. Almost everything in Enescu’s luminous piece grows out of the broadly spun unison melody that unfolds at its outset over a throbbing single-note bass-line, with the entire 40-minute structure conceived as a continuous whole. It is, not to mince words, a masterpiece, and it is good to have it so well played and recorded as here, even though Gidon Kremer has chosen to present it in an orchestrated version. Certainly, the enlarged sonority is effective – but then, so is Enescu’s original.

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Much more enigmatic is Enescu’s Piano Quintet, composed fully four decades later. Its languorous, perfumed style imparts the impression of a rhapsodic improvisation with nostalgic glances back to the impassioned melodic style of Fauré. A curiosity, perhaps, but well worth exploring. Misha Donat