George Enescu (1881-1955)

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Grand Palace Hall, Ion Câmpineanu 28, Bucharest, Romania

Last night, Verdi’s Otello,, and twenty-four hours later Zubin Mehta conducted Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony with the Maggio Musicale members (he was music director in Florence, 1985 to 2017). But first the Prelude to George Enescu’s long-gestated opera Œdipe, written to a French libretto and first staged in Paris in 1936 if not reaching Romania until 1958 (the composer deceased) when Constantin Silvestri conducted it in Bucharest. The opening pages heard here are distinctive, of theatrical process, dark timbres, all too short at five minutes but with a certain enigmatic quality that leads the listener to explore this ambitious stage-work in its entirety.

The lower strings (cellos centre-left, basses behind) attacked the opening pages of the Mahler with gusto, and violins dialogued either side of the podium, Mehta’s experience of this music (conducting from memory) enshrined in a first movement seen whole, various episodes belonging, whether expressive or dramatic, always vibrant, neither sensationalist nor clinical, yet there was a sense of theatre and many pertinent articulations and detailing. Mahler asks for a five-minute pause following the first movement. Mehta waited for less than one, the second-movement Ländler beautifully judged for lilt (very together pizzicatos), the following Scherzo, once the singers had taken their places, had a pungently-sounded gliding progress, it is after-all related to one of Mahler’s Wunderhorn settings, ‘Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt’, as is ‘Urlicht’, sang with intensity by Michèle Losier, matched by the concertmaster, and heralded by seamless brass. The vast Finale, dark to light, went through its wastelands, huge crescendos, march-past (perfectly paced, it can be too fast), off-stage band and catastrophe with integrity, then horns and woodwinds suggested optimism and birdsong (doves of peace), and, conclusively, choral redemption, the MMF Choir’s first entry wonderfully hushed at a broad tempo, and from there to salvation (“Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du” / “Rise again, yes, rise again” – from the words Mahler added to Klopstock’s text), Mehta taking a majestic course (bells and organ prominent) until the ultimate chord. Uplifting.


LORENZO FRATINI chorus master