Playlists - April 2015

Gramophone Sat 21st March 2015

Orchestral Enescu; A French Line To Boulez; Glazunov

The music of Romania’s greatest musician, an intriguing (mainly) French programme from recorder player Erik Bosgraaf, and a Russian Romantic are in the listening mix this month.

Orchestral Enescu

Richard Whitehouse chooses 10 pieces from the orchestral output of the Romanian polymath George Enescu

A prodigy on the violin, George Enescu (the 60th anniversary of whose death falls this May) was hardly less precocious as a composer. It is worth recalling the words of Yehudi Menuhin (Enescu’s most illustrious pupil) who considered that the Romanian’s mature music would not really be understood prior to the 21st century. First heard in Bucharest, the Romanian Poem (1897) bracingly contrasts the inward and festive sides of the national character in what is a deceptively rhapsodic two-part tone-poem. Coming 75 years after Mendelssohn’s work, the Octet for strings (1900) took formal ingenuity and contrapuntal dexterity to a new level, its four movements rising to a climax of dizzying complexity and emotional abandon. The worldwide success of his First Romanian Rhapsody has always overshadowed that of the Second (1902), although while this latter piece may lack its predecessor’s sheer exhilaration, its melodic potency and unforced pathos are its own justification. Mahler wasn’t the only conductor of renown to champion the First Orchestral Suite (1903), doubtless impressed by its ‘Prélude á l’unisson’. Among the most-played orchestral works of its era, the First Symphony (1905) finds Enescu at his most engaging and communicative. His Third Symphony (1918) – which received its London premiere as recently as this February – is a vast (in scope if not in size) contemplation of the human spirit. At its centre is a scherzo whose glancing irony is blown aside by a peroration of immense import.Enescu was never to hear Vox Maris (c1929), yet its unique fusion of formal intricacy and expressive evocation takes his musical idiom to a new level of tonal subtlety and refinement equalled by few and surpassed by none. One of Enescu’s greatest later successes, the Third Orchestral Suite (1938) centres on a lengthy depiction of landscape whose tangible detail is no less remarkable than the formal precision and fluidity that makes it all possible. Realised from the composer’s detailed draft by Pascal Bentoiu, the Fifth Symphony (c1941) finds Enescu transcending the horrors of war in a personal requiem. Enescu was all but on his deathbed when he finished his Chamber Symphony (1954), yet this compressed focusing on formal and expressive essentials finds his powers intact.

A French line to Boulez

Recorder player Erik Bosgraaf offers a playlist that combines two complementary strands

I’ve followed two threads for my playlist. Firstly, I wanted to follow a completely personal and hypothetical line of French music preceding Pierre Boulez (whose music I’ve just recorded for Brilliant Classics), and secondly, I was keen to present a collection of music for a solo instrument. The French line starts, in chronological order, with a work by one of the greatest 18th-century composers, François Couperin; his eye for detail in fine ornamentation is never allowed to intrude on a lush sound. Boulez’s Dialogue de l’ombre double was written for Berio and uses piano reverb, just like the dedicatee’s Sequenza for trumpet solo (which appears later in my playlist). Then there’s Debussy’s Syrinx for flute solo, followed by the clarinet solo from Quatuor pour la fin du temps and a short monophonic movement from Les corps glorieux – both by Messiaen; the composer, who taught Boulez, plays organ in the latter recording. Vortex temporum is by Gérard Grisey, a composer who died far too young to continue the French tradition. Boulez as a conductor should not be omitted; he makes an appearance in the introduction to The Miraculous Mandarin. The solo thread is continued by improvising saxophonist Steve Lacy, as well as a small piece by Jacob van Eyck, who has single-handedly produced the largest collection of solo wind music in Western history.

Alexander Glazunov

Andrew Mellor on a Russian master in the 150th anniversary of his birth

If you’re happy to enjoy music from times past without any thought to whether that music served an advancing or innovative purpose, the works of Alexander Glazunov are a tonic. Less concerned than his predecessors with discovering something inherently ‘Russian’ in his music, Glazunov wrote with what might be described as a light Russian accent, bestowed upon music that, at its best, has something of the weave of Brahms and the fluidity of Liszt. Unsurprisingly, he was considered well placed to instruct youths in the craft of composition and musicianship as Director of St Petersburg Conservatoire. What you almost always get from Glazunov is an embracing sense of warmth – from the bottom-up, fur-wrapped emergence of the opening pages of the Fourth Symphony to the lyrical thread of the Violin Concerto, which also tunnels upwards from the depths (opening on the soloist’s lowest string). Rarely, if ever, do you doubt Glazunov’s mastery of his craft; frequently he seems to do more with it than most of his contemporaries. John Ogdon championed the First Piano Concerto and his love shines through a performance full of fizz and bite recorded for EMI. Today’s emphasis on rather cleaner recording techniques only serves to clarify Glazunov’s delicate constructions, particularly in the most recent symphony (and concerto) cycle from José Serebrier.

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