ENESCU Symphonie Concertante. Symphony No 1
There’s something very ‘pre-Shostakovich’ about the austere chord that opens the 20-year-old Enescu’s Symphonie concertante, but thereafter this lyrical outpouring from 1901 is entirely characteristic. The mostly slow first movement ends in a flurry of solo activity; the brief Assez lent that follows pushes the intensity levels up a notch or two, whereas the finale, like the first movement, is in essence an unstoppable flow of melodic invention. Truls Mørk is top dollar in all key respects, his phrase-shaping sensitively inflected (just try his first entry), and his tone production as warm as anyone could wish for. A fair match, I’d say, for the equally excellent Alban Gerhardt, whose Hyperion recording (with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Carlos Kalmar) also programmes music by Dohnányi and d’Albert.
Enescu’s First Symphony postdates the Symphonie concertante by four years and in terms of confidence and maturity marks a significant step forwards, from the assertive opening, through the expressive slow movement, to the finale, which opens very much in the manner of Brahms (Haydn Variations, Second Symphony). No need to sing the praises of Hannu Lintu and the Tampere Philharmonic in this repertoire. Their version of the Second Symphony (10/12 – coupled with the Chamber Symphony) earned itself a Gramophone Award nomination in 2013, whereas their coupling of the Concert Overture and Third Symphony (1/14) is consistent with its stablemates and scores top marks for both musical quality and technical excellence.
Lintu’s performance of the three-movement First Symphony more or less matches Cristian Mandeal and the Bucharest Philharmonic (Arte Nova) for tempo in the first movement, whereas Mandeal chooses marginally broader speeds for the next two. I much prefer the better-focused Lintu. As to the same coupling featuring the George Enescu State Philharmonic and the Orchestra of the Romanian Radio and Television with cellist Valentin Arcu (Marco Polo), slower tempi all round dull the effect, not to mention less distinctive playing both from the soloist and the orchestras. So a definite thumbs-up for Mørk and Lintu.