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In performance: Romanian duo Azoitei, Stan

Web-only review:

Romanian duo showcases Enescu, Brahms
by Charles T. Downey

Violinist Remus Azoitei and pianist Eduard Stan gave a concert in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Wednesday night. The Romanian Cultural Institute has taken this program of violin sonatas by George Enescu and Johannes Brahms on an international tour, concluding Thursday night at Carnegie Hall. The influence of Brahms, whom Enescu met and worked with during his student years in Vienna, was only one of many that Enescu would absorb and synthesize in his own unclassifiable style.
(read more after the jump)

Azoitei and Stan released an exemplary two-disc set of the complete works of Enescu for violin and piano a couple of years ago, on the Hänssler Classic label, and the musicians' long collaboration made for an easy rapport in performance. Azoitei, a Romanian trained at Juilliard and now teaching in London, played with a fluid melodic sensibility and sparkling technique. His not always expansive tone could be submerged beneath the broader gestures of Stan, who was not afraid to unleash the Steinway's power, sometimes pushing the violin to the background.

Their Brahms was seething in its dynamic contrasts, especially a slightly overbearing Third Sonata, while the calmer Second Sonata was more amiable. The Enescu pieces bookended the Brahms, with the A minor "Torso" Sonata showing thematic kinship with Brahms as well as the harmonic influence of Massenet and Fauré from Enescu's time in France. The bends and blue notes in Enescu's epic Third Sonata, titled "In Romanian Folk Character," could be traced to either Romanian folk music or the jazz Enescu heard in Paris. Two encores, Enescu's youthful "Ballade" and Brahms's crowd-pleasing Hungarian Dance No. 1, rounded out this compelling program.

-- Charles T. Downey

By Anne Midgette  |  December 11, 2009; 6:08 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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I was happy to see that there was a reviewer present at this recital, which I attended at the last minuite, thanks to a complimentary ticket from the Embassy of Romania and two Romanian-born friends who brought my attention to the concert. What did strike me during the performance was not just the influence of Brahms, but perhaps also that of an Enescu contemporary, Bela Bartok - especially in the cembalon-like repeated piano chords of the two Enescu works. My colleagues reminded me that resemblances between the music of Bartok and that of Enescu should not be a surprise, since Bartok was indeed born in Transylvania now part of Romania proper. Somehow that possible influence upon Enuscu's music had escaped me before, and I was happy to be made aware of the possible relationship in the course of this concert. I also agree that the pianist was more than an equal partner - it was some of the strongest accompaniment to a string performer which I have experienced within the last year, and not at all that unwelcome. For Brahms and Enescu, after all, one does need a team effort - these are not early Mozart violin sonatas, where the violin sometimes seems to be a passive participant. These two instrumentalists made a terrific team. I would certainly come to hear them play again.

Posted by: reithl | December 11, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I don't know how much Bartok influenced Enescu. Let's not forget that by 1926, the year in which Enescu's 3rd violin Sonata was composed (the Torso Sonata was written even earlier), Bartok wrote little that was well known outside Hungary. Indeed, little Bartok was played in Paris, where Enescu was located when not in Romania.

On another Internet site, somebody recently wrote that portions of Enescu's 1st symphony reminded him of Korngold. But Korngold was only seven years old when the Symphony was written!

Also, somebody who studied the score of Enescu's 3rd Orchestral Suite said that he saw some harmonies that reminded him of those of Giacinto Scelsi, written many years later. And, ironically, the Suite is actually one of Enescu's most accessible pieces - though difficult to execute.

Enescu was more of an inovator than is given credit for.

I will write my own take of the concert later.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | December 12, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

One more thing about Enescu's inovations. In Oedipe, he used quarter-tone notes, years before Alois Haba wrote his quarter-tone operas.

In fact Enescu uses quarter-tones in the 3rd Violin Sonata as well.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | December 12, 2009 5:28 PM | Report abuse

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