Enescu: Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 29; Piano Quartet No. 2 in D minor

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COMPOSERS: Enescu
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 29; Piano Quartet No. 2 in D minor
PERFORMER: Solomon Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557159
Among outright masterpieces, Enescu’s late chamber works are some of the best-kept secrets of 20th-century music. Continually recasting and transforming a myriad basic motifs, they distil an essence of Romanian folk music: allusive, dream-like, free-floating in their slower movements, coming together for wild spasms of dionysiac dance in their finales. The Quintet (1940) and Second Piano Quartet (1944) show Enescu at his most personal and masterly. Though immensely testing for the players, they are not obviously virtuoso vehicles: rather they’re compositionally virtuosic, the products of a capacious and incredibly inventive mind working at full stretch and in command of every aspect and potential development of the musical material. Despite their incredible intricacy they are very different in character: the Quintet eventually extrovert and invigorating, with a finale like a burgeoning force of nature, the Quartet, dedicated to the memory of his teacher Fauré, darker, somehow reticent and inward-turned even in its shows of vigour.

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It’s wonderful to find a young British ensemble coming together specifically to play and record these pieces, which have long deserved wider currency. The Solomon players clearly love the music, and their performances are as agile as Enescu’s fantastical imagination demands. In the Quartet there is no real competition; but in the Quintet they occasionally seem a mite earthbound and literal compared to the even more fantastical and elegantly played account released last year by Kremerata Baltica (Nonesuch, reviewed last August). The trouble may be the Naxos recording, which, though very lively, is also very close, somewhat obscuring the work’s many-layered perspectives. Still, at budget price, no Enescu enthusiast need hesitate. Calum MacDonald