Enescu: Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3

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LABELS: Brilliant
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3
PERFORMER: Antal Szalai (violin), József Balog (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Brilliant 9165

Since he was equally proficient as both virtuoso violinist and pianist, it’s perhaps hardly surprising that Enescu should have written a substantial body of music that brings together these two instruments. Until relatively recently, however, only the Third Violin Sonata, famously championed by Yehudi Menuhin and Ida Haendel, was at all widely known. Nowadays, thanks to the availability of several recordings, the situation has changed and the far-reaching nature of Enescu’s achievement in this particular medium can be fully recognised.
Admirable as they are, the three Sonatas alone don’t give the complete picture of Enescu’s development. For this you need to turn to Telos’s warmly recorded double-CD set with violinist and viola player Laurent Albrecht Breuninger and pianist Thomas Duis. It may not offer quite as comprehensive a survey as the release from Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan on Hänssler Classic, but it includes two works of compelling interest.
First, there’s the fascinating one-movement Torso Sonata of 1911, marking a stylistic halfway house between the late-Romantic sensibilities of the earlier works and the amazing absorption of Romanian folk elements that colours the Third Sonata. Even more revelatory is the much later Impressions d’enfance, a sequence of ten short vignettes that provide a nostalgic recreation of life in Enescu’s home village. Breuninger and Duis deliver an atmospheric account of this work. Yet their performance is not quite as hypnotic as that of Gidon Kremer and Oleg Maisenberg on Warner, and for those who are unfamiliar with the score it is regrettable that Telos doesn’t provide separate tracks for each piece.
In the three numbered Sonatas there are striking differences in approach between the Breuninger/Duis duo and the equally well recorded Hungarian team of Antal Szalai and József Balog on Brilliant. Although Szalai’s sweet tone and Balog’s sympathetically nuanced piano playing seem well attuned to the Brahmsian colouring of the First Sonata and the more perfumed sonorities of the Second, Breuninger and Duis provide a much more animated and involving musical experience. They opt for increased urgency and dynamic energy in the outer movements, and extract a greater degree of mystery and emotional intensity from the sinister chromaticism of the central Adagio in the First and the poignant Tranquillement of the Second. On the other hand, in the Third Sonata Szalai and Balog give a slightly more imaginative performance, their sharper-etched palette of colours simulating folk instrument timbres to impressive effect. Erik Levi