Enescu: Piano Quartets Nos 1 & 2

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COMPOSERS: Enescy
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Piano Quartets Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Schubert Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10672

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Enescu’s First Piano Quartet (1909) shows his profound stylistic debt to Fauré; the Second (1944), one of his last works, is dedicated to the French master’s memory. But both works are essentially Enescian in their ceaseless exploration of basic thematic shapes and atmospheric evocations of his Romanian homeland. Neither sounds anything like the early Romanian Rhapsodies, whose ubiquitous success Enescu came to hate.

Time stands still in these extraordinary works. The rapturous nocturne that is the First Quartet’s slow movement is one of his most exquisite inspirations, while the first two movements of the Second Quartet seem miraculously independent of any barline, with phrases and lines of wonderful plasticity drifting in and out as if on the drawing and exhalation of the players’ breathing. In his notes, Martin Anderson asserts: ‘Enescu is the greatest great composer whose greatness is not generally recognized.’ But it’s precisely the rarified and genuinely unusual nature of his inspiration that may have contributed to that state of affairs.

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The Schubert Ensemble have clearly lived with this music for a long time – and love it. Subtlety, restraint, perfect unanimity within the ebb and flow of the inbuilt rubato – they have it all, plus the sudden blazes of energy required in both Quartets’ finales. The limpidity and crystalline touch of William Howard’s pianism impresses throughout. These works are magnificently performed here. An important release. Calum MacDonald