In some ways, this tantalising piece of music shows the direction in which Enescu’s style was advancing during this period. Rhythmical fluidity is one of the essential elements here: in the piano part there are elaborate cross-rhythms, and in the violin line there are frequent shifts between dotted rhythms, triplets, and other more complex subdivisions of the beat. The linear fluency of the writing is so pronounced that it tends towards a kind of seamlessness, which begins to rob the melody of its melodic function. (A similar criticism can be made of the Symphonie concertante.) It is difficult to tell which phrases are transitional joining-up passages, and which are the melodic statements proper. The distinction between the two is not a necessary one, of course, and it is one of the characteristic features of many of Enescu’s later works that it disappears almost entirely (the first movements of the Piano Quintet and the Third Violin Sonata are good examples of this). But in order for that to happen, a more fluid and rarefied harmonic language was needed too. In this ‘Sonata Torso’, the underlying harmonic scheme seems unable to cope with the melodic and rhythmical subtleties of the score. This problem first arises in the opening four bars, where a delicately suggestive and exploratory violin line is tied as if by its ankle to an immediately familiar sequence of bar-by-bar harmonic changes. Elsewhere the harmonies lean too closely towards some of the predictabilities of late-romantic salon music in a way that belies the rhythmical and textural originality of the writing. Not for nothing has the great Romanian composer and critic Pascal Bentoiu described this as ‘one of the most stylistically impure works Enescu ever wrote’. And yet, as Bentoiu also points out, there are passages of wonderful felicity in the delicate interplay of the instrumentation, and the final pages are exceptionally well paced and balanced. Lying as it does almost exactly half-way between the Second and Third Violin Sonatas, this work helps us to see the distinctive excellences of those sonatas in a new and even clearer light.
from notes by Noel Malcolm © 1991