Schubert Ensemble of London

Enescu: Piano Quartets Nos. 1 & 2

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"George Enescu (1881-1955) is the greatest great composer whose greatness is not generally recognized," wrote Martin Anderson in his notes to this release of Enescu's rarely performed piano quartets. The statement is surely debatable, and Baroque buffs might hold out for Biber or Zelenka. But Britain's Schubert Ensemble makes a good case for Enescu here, with full-blooded performances of these difficult, complex chamber works. The massive Piano Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 16, demands a special round of repeated hearings; clocking in at almost 40 minutes, it is somehow Mahlerian in scope, although the basic harmonic language falls into the orbits of Fauré and Rachmaninov. Enescu's genius here is that the music in the opening movement keeps making turns into different realms, with major heroic, concerto-like statements from the piano, lyrical interludes, proto-Impressionist moves, passages influenced by Romanian folk music, and more. The quartet seems to, as Mahler put it, "encompass the world," but it also all hangs together, with much of it derived from an opening motive. The slow movement is an unusually beautiful nocturne, extended to heavenly length. The late Piano Quartet No. 2 in D minor, Op. 30, premiered in 1944, was an homage to Fauré and is less impressive in its sheer scope, but is full of gorgeous melodies. The momentum never flags here through some very large structures, and those who enjoy the experience of digging into a deep piece of chamber music will find this release the height of enjoyment.

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