Enescu’s Solo piano works, Vols 1-3 by pianist Josu de Solaun

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COMPOSERS: Enescu
LABELS: Grand Piano
ALBUM TITLE: Enescu
WORKS: Solo piano works, Vols 1-3
PERFORMER: Josu de Solaun (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Grand Piano: Vol. 1 GP 705; Vol. 2 GP 706; Vol. 3 GP 707

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The Romanian composer George Enescu ranks among the most enigmatic geniuses of late 19th- and early 20th-century music. He was equally a force of nature as pianist, violinist and conductor – and was mentor in chief to the young Yehudi Menuhin. His turbulent existence carried him from child prodigydom in rural Romania to Parisian exile, by way of many political upheavals and a tragic private life. His music is broadly characterised by rich textures, complex harmonic language and an eclectic meld of influences – Romanian folksong, Fauré and Brahms, among others. His masterpiece, the opera Oedipe, only had its UK staged premiere last year. Having said that, Josu de Solaun makes a seriously persuasive case for the varied and absorbing piano music in these three impressive discs.

The works traverse some 40 years: short pieces written in his teens in the 1890s are placed mostly together on the third and final disc, while a centrepiece of the cycle is the dazzling Sonata No. 3 in D, which mingles Enescu’s irrepressible exuberance and questing curiosity with a dark, introverted strand that often lurks beneath the fascinating surface. The Pièces Impromptues, Op. 18, contain never a dull moment, toying with the piano’s potential for sonority as if it were a musical chemistry set; and his love for the layered overtones of bells is reflected both here and still more in the Suite Op. 10 ‘Des cloches sonores’.

De Solaun never makes heavy weather of Enescu’s demanding writing, but lets expression lead at all times, no matter how intense the virtuosity. There’s a bouncy vitality to his playing, a warm and intimate approach to phrasing and beautifully mellow tone quality. Sound quality is close but not too close, warm yet not too resonant.

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Jessica Duchen