Concert honors Romanian composer

Violinist Jennifer Curtis and pianist Ilya Poletaev performed in the tribute concert to composer George Enescu.
Violinist Jennifer Curtis and pianist Ilya Poletaev performed in the tribute concert to composer George Enescu. Photo by Zoe Gorman.

The lesser-known music of Romanian composer and violinist George Enescu resurfaced at the School of Music on Saturday evening.

The school held a tribute concert to Enescu featuring pianist Ilya Poletaev, tenor James Taylor violinist Jennifer Curtis, and cellist Mihai Marica. The two-and-a-half hour performance illustrated the 20th century violinist’s diverse composition repertoire, incorporating stylistic influences from France, Germany and Enescu’s native Romania.

Poletaev described Enescu’s music as “a very complex amalgam of different styles,” and said he aimed to select pieces representing those facets.
Poletaev described Enescu’s music as “a very complex amalgam of different styles,” and said he aimed to select pieces representing those facets.

“Our mission will be accomplished today if [people] become interested in this music,” Poletaev said.

Poletaev said Enescu, who was better known as a performer during his lifetime in the first half of the 20th century, crafted his compositions over many years for his own satisfaction. Enescu is placed neither among the great modernists of his era, such as Bela Bartok, nor with musical resistors to modernism like Sergei Rachmaninov. Rather, he has a unique style that mixes melodic and lilting segments with strident bowed chords and dissonant intervals. Enescu also varies dynamics for dramatic effect, incorporating sforzandos — sudden short, loud sounds — and rapid crescendos.

Poletaev said Enescu’s music explores the different sounds instruments can produce, and makes the performer gain a profound insight into musical interpretation. For example, Enescu varies the length of the bow used in both “Airs in Romanian Style for solo violin” and “Cello Sonata in C major,” both played at the concert last night, and mixes in pizzicatos, or plucked notes, for different effects. In “Impressions d’enfance,” Enescu intertwines the sounds of the violin and piano to create vivid imagery of a bird in a cage, a dream world and a thunder storm in the night.

Poletaev described the music as “a very complex amalgam of different styles,” and said it is very personal.

In the “Sept Chansons de Clément Marot,” Enescu pays homage to his adopted country — France — and to his teacher Gabriel Fauré. But the Romanian folk style of his later works already can be detected in some of the songs, Poletaev said. Sung by Taylor, a tenor and associate professor of voice at the School of Music, the pieces embody the whimsical amorous conceits, the foreboding allusions to Greek and Roman tragedy, and the profound, personal anguish of Marot’s poetry with lines such as “[a sad life] compels me to love my own anguish / and forbids me to feel depressed / if I suffer.” Poletaev said Enescu lived a difficult life, and his personal suffering was represented in the emotion of his compositions, Poletaev explained.

He added that he selected the pieces to represent different qualities of musical delivery in order to paint a panorama of what Enescu was about.

Guest violinist Jennifer Curtis said what she found most interesting about Enescu’s music is his juxtaposition of the French aesthetic and delight in color with the more inward nature of the Romanian character. An Enescu enthusiast and member of the New York-based Enescu Chamber players, Curtis played “Airs in Romanian Style for solo violin” at The Juilliard School two weeks ago..

She said the lesser-known pieces by Enescu have been uncovered among manuscripts at the Romanian Cultural Institute and the George Enescu Museum to revitalize Enescu’s pieces.

“[Poletaev] aroused the spirit of the composer who deserves [this tribute],” opera singer M. Julius Kessel said after the event.

The program closed with a recording of Enescu playing violin.

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