Enescu: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Enescu
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: Monte Carlo PO/Lawrence Foster
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54763 2 DDD
George Enescu achieved his greatest popularity with compositions in which folk elements of his native Romania are reflected and developed, for example the Romanian Rhapsodies. However, his first two symphonies inhabit a much more conventional world. The first was composed a full eight years after the death of Brahms, but is written, in the words of the composer, ‘quite flagrantly in the manner of the immortal Johannes’. True enough, it breathes with Brahmsian expansiveness and lyricism, but in the depths of the music there is a restlessness and turbulence that speaks just as powerfully of Richard Strauss.

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The Second Symphony, from six years later (1911), has shaken off the Brahmsian yoke, and strives for the sort of originality that Strauss had already achieved before the turn of the century. But it defeats itself through lazy plagiarisms and early Romantic associations that cannot maintain the momentum of change. There are hints of Mahler, and the orchestral colouring is often startling, but this is music whose first language is clearly drawn from the comfortable world of late Romanticism.

The Monte Carlo Philharmonic does not really have the strength and persuasion to give these symphonies the full palette they deserve. One can sense that Lawrence Foster is divided between developing a potentially luxuriant sound and bringing out the strands of colour that disrupt it.

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The result is neither homogenous nor arresting; it is difficult to engage with. For all that, the music is pleasant enough, and the disc makes agreeable listening. Christopher Lambton