Two contrasting string works by Romania’s greatest composer, himself a legendary violinist, are performed by the soloists of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo – conducted by Enescu expert Lawrence Foster – and young violinist Valeriy Sokolov, whose international breakthrough came with his victory at the 2005 George Enescu International Competition in Bucharest.
This new recording of string music by George Enescu, Romania’s greatest composer and a legendary violinist, brings together two works which contrast in both style and scale: the composer’s early string quartet in an orchestration by conductor Lawrence Foster, and his Violin Sonata No 3, performed by the young Ukrainian violinist Valeriy Sokolov (profiled by director Bruno Monsaingeon on the Virgin Classics DVD Un violon dans l’âme / Natural born Fiddler) and the pianist Svetlana Kosenko.
Enescu has a distinguished history on EMI: as a violinist in the classic recording of Bach concertos with his pupil Yehudi Menuhin, and with recordings of his music conducted by Lawrence Foster: the opera Oedipe, winner of France’s Grand Prix du Disque in 1991, and the symphonies Nos 1 to 3 coupled with the symphonic poem Vox Maris; Foster conducted the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo on both these releases – he was the ensemble’s Principal Conductor from 1980 to 1990.
The Romanian composer (1881-1955) had a long connection with France, attending the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 14 and studying composition with Massenet and Fauré. The Octet was completed in 1900, when he was still just 18 years old, and Enescu judged it one of the first works to carry his personal stylistic and expressive stamp. Lawrence Foster, who first discovered the Romanian composer though his interest in the music of the composer’s friend Bartók, describes it as “a youthful, audacious piece, full of invention,” comparing its richly-layered late-Romanticism to Schoenberg’s in the more famous string work Verklärte Nacht (1899). Enescu’s octet is a large-scale piece, comprising four linked movements which last a total of some 40 minutes. Lawrence Foster cites a precedent in the composer’s letters for the idea of arranging the piece for string orchestra. At certain points in the score the conductor has made the choice of using a group of eight soloists rather than the full complement of players – not, he hastens to add, for technical reasons (though the music is often virtuosic), but to capture the special mood of the music at those moments.
In September 2005 Valeriy Sokolov, born in 1986, won the Grand Prix at the George Enescu International Competition in Bucharest, as well as the award for Best Performance of Enescu’s Sonata No. 3, and the Enescu Foundation Prize. He has recently struck up a duo partnership with fellow Virgin Classics artist David Fray. Written in 1926 and subtitled ‘Dans le caractère populaire roumain’, the Sonata No 3 evokes the rhapsodic, highly ornamented spirit of Romanian folk music, although it does not quote any traditional melodies directly.
It was Sokolov’s performance of this sonata that inspired Bruno Monsaingeon to make the violinist the subject of a documentary. He said: “… Not the slightest tension marred the impression he gave of being totally at ease with his instrument,” and praised Sokolov’s “absolute control of technique, his musical maturity, and above all an utter abandonment to the flow of the music.”
“… Not the slightest tension marred the impression he gave of being totally at ease with his instrument,” and praised Sokolov’s “absolute control of technique, his musical maturity, and above all an utter abandonment to the flow of the music.” Bruno Monsaingeon
“…if you compare the first couple of minutes of this version with a recording of the octet original you'll note how effectively Foster underlines the music's dialogic element, solo and tutti alternating in the manner of a concerto grosso… Foster's performance is a very good one and the recording focuses the fine Monte Carlo strings with admirable clarity, especially in the wildly assertive second movement, music that anticipates both Martinu and Honegger.” Gramophone Magazine, April 2009
“The Third Violin Sonata, rooted in Romanian folk music yet pushing both players to extremes in a quest for expressive subtleties, is one of Enescu's greatest scores. It gets a powerhouse performance from stars-in-the-making Valeriy Sokolov and Svetlana Kosenko.” The Guardian, 13th March 2009 ***