ENESCU Symphony No 5. Isis
Karol Szymanowski is the obvious point of stylistic reference at the start of Isis except that where Szymanowski would soon have had us warmly wrapped in a sequined world, Enescu keeps his shimmering spectres alive without shifting perspectives, at least not for a few minutes. What we hear isn’t an Urtext as such but a 1999 ‘performing version’ by Pascal Bentoiu. Aside from being the goddess of love, magic, the dead, the moon and the female principle in nature, Isis was Enescu’s name for his mistress, so you can understand the erotic nature of his voluptuous essay. Anyone familiar with his similarly ethereal Vox maris of 30 years later (also involving a chorus, plus a tenor soloist) will likely fall in love with what they hear.
Quite how Enescu himself would have refined it is difficult to say, and much the same question hovers above the 40-minute Fifth Symphony, a wartime work again rendered performable by Bentoiu. The opening Moderato molto promotes a degree of tonal and harmonic lushness that makes Korngold sound positively ascetic by comparison, though there are some sensitively penned instrumental solos. The second movement opens with a viola solo and recalls such folk-inspired masterpieces as Suite villageoise and Impressions d’enfance (I also hear traces of the first orchestral Suite). The restless Vivace third movement, much of which grows out of the first movement, emerges here as something less than the required con fuoco (though the rest of the performance is more or less up to scratch) and the transparent finale opens sombrely, before culminating in a lyrical tenor solo backed by a female chorus.
The two works together add up to a seductive hour’s worth, though whether they’ll prove as durable as the suites and the best of the chamber works is difficult to tell. I would certainly recommend sampling.