Hyperion Records

Violin Sonata No 3, Op 25
'dans le caractère populaire roumain', 1926

'Enescu: Violin Sonatas' (CDH55103)
Enescu: Violin Sonatas
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55103  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
Movement 1: Moderato malinconio
Track 5 on CDH55103 [8'17] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 2: Andante sostenuto e misterioso
Track 6 on CDH55103 [8'32] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 3: Allegro con brio ma non troppo mosso
Track 7 on CDH55103 [8'00] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

Violin Sonata No 3, Op 25
The Third Violin Sonata is in some ways a very untypical piece. No other mature work by Enescu has such a consistently, explicitly and exotically folk-Romanian character. By the time he wrote this sonata in 1926, Enescu had written other works with a Romanian flavour to them: some of the dances in Act I of Œdipe, for example, or the mysterious last movement of the First Piano Sonata (1924), which he once described as a depiction of a moonlit Romanian landscape. But he had come to feel that the direct quotation of folk tunes (as in his early Romanian Rhapsodies) was a fruitless procedure. There was nothing he could do with such tunes, he said, other than state them, juxtapose them and repeat them: any attempt to subject them to proper musical development would destroy their nature. In his increasingly organicist style, musical development and the exploration of complex inter-relationships was the very essence of composition. However, there were some techniques of Romanian folk music which seemed to offer new compositional possibilities, ways of enriching his own methods of musical development. One such technique has already been mentioned: the use of chromatic modes to break down the distinction between major and minor keys. Another technique was the use of quarter-tones, eroding the tonal scale itself. And a third, perhaps the most important of all, was the use of ‘heterophony’—that is, the superimposition of differing versions of the same musical material, sometimes with a slight time-lag as well, but without creating any sense of counterpoint, canon or fugue.

All these techniques are present in the Third Violin Sonata. The one thing which is not present is the direct quotation of folk themes. Instead, Enescu has invented an entire folk language of his own, in which the atmosphere and melodic colouring is deeply Romanian, but the themes (his creations) are incorporated from the start into his own individual processes of melodic and harmonic development. Enescu has here distilled, in a highly personal way, a sort of quintessence of Romanian folk music, with its modes, its rhythms (either the parlando rubato rhythm of the first movement, or the spiky dance rhythms of the last) and its opulent treasury of ornamentation. The subtitle of the work, ‘In the character of Romanian folk music’, deliberately uses the word ‘character’ rather than ‘style’: in an interview in 1928 Enescu said ‘I don’t use the word ‘style’ because that implies something made or artificial, whereas ‘character’ implies something given, existing from the beginning. […] In this way Romanian composers will be able to write valuable compositions whose character will be similar to that of folk music, but which will be achieved through different, absolutely personal means.’

In his attempt to capture the spirit of Romanian folk music, Enescu developed for this sonata what is virtually a new language of violin writing. The music is full of extremely detailed instructions such as ‘flautato sulla tastiera colla punta del arco’ (‘flute-like, with the point of the bow, on the fingerboard’); the ornamentation is elaborately notated, and different degrees of vibrato are also specified. When this is combined with the frequent fluctations of rhythm, tempo, dynamic and mood, the result is a score brimming with expressivity. Menuhin has written: ‘I know of no other work more painstakingly edited or planned. It is correct to say that it is quite sufficient to follow the score for one to interpret the work’. When Enescu has done with this extraordinary degree of specification is, paradoxical though this sounds, to convey a spirit of improvisation.

Much of the violin technique used here is, of course, an imitation of the playing of Romanian folk-fiddlers—though the term ‘imitation’ here covers a whole spectrum, from the direct reproduction of techniques (such as using a slight upwards portamento to lean into the beginning of a note) to the much more elusive evocation of mood and spirit. The piano part is imitative too: most obviously, of cymbalom-playing, though there are other sorts of imitative effect as well. The strange repeated notes at the start of the slow movement were, according to one pianist who played this work with Enescu (Céliny Chailley-Richez) an imitation of the squeaking of toads on a summer evening. Alfred Cortot, who also discussed and played this work with the composer, described the slow movement as ‘an evocation in sound of the mysterious feeling of summer nights in Romania: below, the silent, endless, deserted plain; above, constellations leading off into infinity …’. But whether the listener thinks of toads or galaxies is secondary. The music is primary.

from notes by Noel Malcolm © 1991

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