George Enescu with Yehudi Menuhin

Friday, September 22, 2023

Grand Palace Hall, Ion Câmpineanu 28, Bucharest, Romania

Following their Rachmaninov encore last night,, Cristian Măcelaru and Orchestre National de France began their second Enescu Festival appearance with the composer’s Piano Concerto No.2, a brief encounter with Kirill Gerstein. He made a steep crescendo for the opening (non-arpeggiated) chords and went on to give a ‘first among equals’ and unindulged account of the solo part, pulsing along if fluent in the outer movements, just a little unfeeling though, the odd note missed, some unwanted ones found. However, greater warmth and shapely intimacy informed the Adagio. Orchestral support was sympathetic, some distinguished woodwind contributions, and, as an extra, Gerstein offered his transcription of a Rachmaninov song, rapt and atmospheric.

George Enescu’s Third Symphony (1916-18, then revised) opens darkly and pensively before swinging into an energetic first movement with (Korngold-like) voluptuousness, all part of a diverse palette of ideas and sounds, enjoyably unpredictable, musically likeable, and very personal. The flighty and colourful second movement develops power and menace, and the slow Finale, initially pastoral if enigmatic, introduces an SATB chorus (singing from up above away from the orchestra), an organ, and bell strokes – we seem to be heading heavenwards (and I had in mind Scriabin). The work, probably the best of Enescu’s three Symphonies, fades into infinity, and this fifty-minute performance was totally persuasive.

To end, Enescu’s always-welcome Romanian Rhapsody No.1, eased and teased by Măcelaru at the beginning, the orchestra playing like natives responding to a conductor who is one, including I assume members of the Romanian Youth Orchestra, hence the credit below, not that I spotted any likely candidates, the performance dedicated to nine recent Romanian musicians no longer with us, including Radu Lupu, their photos projected onto the back wall. Măcelaru directed a scintillating performance, with light and shade and spot-on detail, drawing preemptive clapping when a pause arrived – Măcelaru smiled, raised his arm for quiet, and carried on. For an encore, Dinicu’s Hora staccato, a violin showpiece, heard in an excellent orchestration.

IOSIF ION PRUNNER conductor of the choir