Enescu: Piano Quartets / Tammuz Piano Quartet

Regular price $16.99
Added to Cart! View cart or continue shopping.

ENESCU Piano Quartets: No. 1 in D; No. 2 in d Tammuz Pn Qrt CPO 777506 (65:40)

Pianist Oliver Triendl is a veteran of numerous cpo chamber-music recordings in which the ensembles he is part of—the Minguet, Sine Nomine, and Vogler quartets, and Ensemble Acht—seem to change from one release to the next. I mention this because the Tammuz Piano Quartet is yet another ensemble recently established when Triendl and this time friends Daniel Gaede, violin; Lars Anders Tomter, viola; and cellist Gustav Rivinius (not to be confused with pianist Paul Rivinius) came together. This is their first, and as far as I’m aware, their only commercial recording.

The name of the ensemble struck me as odd, the booklet note informing us that Tammuz, in Babylonian and Assyrian mythology, was the lover of Ishtar, the goddess of love. I suppose for those up on their ancient Mesopotamian history, Ishtar might be the first reference to come to mind, but for many more of us, I suspect, Tammuz will ring a bell as the name of the 10th month on the Hebrew calendar, corresponding roughly to the Gregorian calendar month of July.

For most of my early years of musical discovery, I knew Romanian composer George Enescu (1881–1955) only by his Romanian Rhapsodies . I still remember a Columbia LP recording of them I had with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It has only been within the last 20 or so years, I’d say, that Enescu’s large body of works has made inroads among the classical-music listening public. Live performances of his symphonies, orchestral compositions, and many chamber works are still relatively rare, and his large scale opera Œdipe , completed in 1931, had to wait until 2005 for its U.S. premiere. However, much of Enescu’s music is today available on record, and what has emerged in works like the C-Major Octet and the Sinfonia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra, which can be heard on Volume 1 of Hyperion’s Romantic Cello Concerto series, is a composer of broader scope than might have been thought from some of his popular folk-styled works.

James Manheim, reviewing the current CD for the website AllMusic, writes that “Enescu’s Piano Quartet No. 1, composed in 1909, sounds a bit like what might have happened if Richard Strauss had grown up in Paris.” Manheim’s observation that “the quartet is a large piece (for a chamber work), with the first two of its three movements clocking in at over 13 minutes each,” comports with Christoph Schlüren’s booklet note in which he states, “If only in point of length, the First Piano Quartet is a composition of epic dimensions.” “Epic” may be a bit exaggerated, for certainly there are chamber works, like Franck’s D-Major String Quartet, that exceed Enescu’s in duration. But “epic” has as much to do with weight and gravity of content as with length; and these two piano quartets are as serious in intent as they are seriously gorgeous.

Up until World War II, Enescu divided his time between his native Romania and France, but following the Soviet occupation of Romania, he repaired permanently to Paris. The French influence on Enescu cannot be downplayed. He studied with Massenet and Fauré, and in the first decade of the 20th century he would have heard not only the works of his teachers but also of Debussy. So, Manheim got the Paris part right, but not, I think, the Strauss reference. Enescu’s Piano Quartet No. 1 sounds to me like Fauré on testosterone, which is to say it has much the same restless harmony, arresting melody, and free-flowing rhythm, but it’s scruffier around the edges, with a week-old beard, sounding more masculine and muscular and smelling more of musk than of hyacinth and lavender.

Writing during the worst of times, Enescu composed his Piano Quartet No. 2 between 1943 and 1944. It was written to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Fauré’s death. Unlike its older companion, however, which is heavily influenced by Fauré’s melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic language, if not so much his elegant, refined style, the later work seems to take note of Bartók in the way it draws upon Magyar folk elements in its first and last movements, and to explore a kind of post-Debussy Impressionism in its slow movement.

Both of these works make very personal, very powerful, and very moving musical statements. For several years now, there has been a Naxos recording of the Piano Quartet No. 2 with the Solomon Ensemble, but it’s coupled with a performance of the composer’s Piano Quintet. To the extent that current listings can be trusted, this new cpo recording seems to be the only one available of the Piano Quartet No. 1. But it’s not trumpeted as a world premiere recording, which record companies usually boast when they’ve managed a coup.

The Tammuz Piano Quartet is really outstanding. The music sounds quite technically challenging, yet I hear no stress or strain in these performances. Playing and recording are superb. If the Romanian Rhapsodies are the only Enescu in your collection, you are in for a real surprise and a real treat with this CD. Not only do I urgently recommend it, I’m setting it aside as a potential candidate for my 2011 Want List.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777506-2

  • UPC: 761203750627

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: George Enescu

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Tammuz Piano Quartet