Though outside his native Romania he is best remembered as one of the greatest violinists and teachers of the 20th century, whose most famous pupil was Yehudi Menuhin, George Enescu thought of himself primarily as a composer, even though his output was relatively small. Yet in western Europe his music is still underperformed; his only opera, Oedipe, was staged for the first time in Britain in 2016, 80 years after its Paris premiere.
Enescu wrote just six works for piano – two sonatas, three suites and a set of variations. Daria Parkhomenko’s disc includes the best known of them, the sonatas Opus 24 Nos 1 and 3 (the second sonata, Op 24 No 2, seems never to have existed), separated by the second of the suites, Op 10, which was awarded the Pleyel keyboard prize in Paris in 1903. The sonatas were premiered in 1925 and 1938 respectively, and differ markedly in style. The first of them, composed when Enescu interrupted work on Oedipe, parades a range of modernist influences, from Debussy and Ravel to motoric Prokofiev and neoclassical Stravinsky, as well as touches of modal Romanian folk music. In the second sonata the style is more purely neoclassical, sometimes not unlike Ravel’s suite Le Tombeau de Couperin, but also harking back more directly to baroque keyboard composers, such as Scarlatti and Rameau.
Despite the stylistic borrowings, the works have a muscular tang that is distinctively Enescu’s own; Parkhomenko projects that wiry intensity superbly, and her performances of what to many listeners will be unfamiliar but thoroughly rewarding music are as fiercely committed as they are brilliantlyaccomplished.
This week’s other pick
Another composer whose published output remained fastidiously small is the subject of Vincenzo Maltempo’s latest release for Piano Classics. All of Paul Dukas’s piano works fit comfortably on to a single disc; they are dominated by his majestic Piano Sonata in E-flat minor, a 45-minute, Beethovenian work composed around the turn of the 20th century, and the almost equally hefty Variations, Interlude and Finale on a Theme by Rameau, written just afterwards. With his prodigious technique, first showcased in his recordings of Alkan and Scriabin, Maltempo is impressively in command of this demanding music; he can be a little too detached at times, but his grasp of the music’s scale is unerring.