Festival Overview

Although the Enescu Festival has been held intermittently for half a century, it is now biennial and the 2019 edition has been its most ambitious yet, with nearly thirty orchestras and ensembles from around Europe visiting during its three week duration. The feast of concerts included plenty of Enescu’s music, of course, but covered much else besides, from baroque opera to the most challenging new music. The concerts are held for the most part in Bucharest’s three main concert halls, all a short walk apart: the lovely 1888 Athenaeum, the less lovely but spacious 1959 Grand Palace and the modern intimate space of Radio Romania. In between an open air big screen relays the events and provides a stage for local music students. The events begin at mid afternoon and continue until after midnight. So much is on offer that it makes sense for IFR to discuss the concerts thematically, rather than in isolation.

Executive Director: Mihai Constantinescu
Artistic Director: Vladimir Jurowski

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Thursday 5 September 2019

Romanian Athenaeum

Handel Silla

Europa Galante
Fabio Biondi Director

Sonia Prina Silla
Silvia Beltrami Claudio
Sunhae Im Metella
Vivica Genaux Lepido
Roberta Invernezzi Flavia
Francesca Mazzuli Celia
Nicolo Donini Mars

Friday 6 September

Romanian Athenaeum

Gluck Iphigénie en Tauride

Orchestra and Choir of the Age of Enlightenment
Laurence Cummings Director

Anna Caterina Antonacci Iphigénie
Christopher Maltman Orestes
Toby Spence Pylade
Andrew Foster-Williams Thoas
Mary Bevan Diana

Saturday 7 September 2019

Romanian Athenaeum

Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice
Orchestra and Choir of the Age of Enlightenment
Laurence Cummings Director

Iestyn Davies Orfeo
Lydia Teuscher Euridice
Rowan Pierce Amore

Sunday 8 September 2019

Romanian Athenaeum

Vivaldi Giustino

Accademia Bizantina
Ottavio Dantone Director

Delphine Galou Giustino
Emoke Barath Arianna
Silke Gang Anastasio
Veronica Gangemi Leocasta
Emiliano Gonzalez Toro Vitaliano
Arianna Venditelli Amanzio
Alessandro Giangrande Andronico/Polidarte

The Review

Is listening to four baroque operas in concert versions on successive nights, each starting at 10.30pm and finishing in the earliest hour of the next day, a pleasure or a form of musical masochism? Surprisingly, mostly a pleasure, even after a long day of (in the case of your correspondent) writing and listening to a lot of other performances in very different genres.

It was that very change in sound and emotional context that was the key. From afternoons and evenings of 19th -21st century idioms, lush or acerbic, to return before bed to the clarity and lack of clutter of 18th century music, all played in appropriate style, was like taking a sorbet after a heavy meal.

If that was the figurative version, reality was similar. One has to eat sometime and by that hour of the evening food and wine had been taken. The wine was making Bucharest seem a jolly place to be in late summer, still warm under the moon, and the glories of Handel and Gluck duly made it seem marvelous – in its original sense of full of marvels.

Even Handel probably only heard one performance of his Silla and clearly did not have much faith in the libretto, since he recycled most of the music with a new story in another opera only a year or two later. Hardly surprising, therefore, that I had never heard it, or that the story involving the dictatorship of Lucius Cornelius Sulla was not entirely obvious, especially with so many similar sopranos strolling on and off the platform. Oddly, for once this really didn’t matter. For one thing, Handel was not over bothered about the action, but for another, Fabio Bondi kept the arias flowing without overloading the concert with recitative. The real delight, though, was in the masterly blending of the voices and the singers’ ability to match the intricate but crystal playing of Europa Galante. This was exquisite Handelian performance: utter delight.

Much the same could be said of OAE’s rendition of Gluck on the next two nights. I have never heard Anna Caterina Antonacci sing with such clarity and intensity before and she was ably matched – though given the enormous vocal power he unleashed that is probably the wrong word – by Christopher Maltman’s Orestes. It’s quite hard to score a coup de théâtre when you only come on for five minutes well after midnight but Mary Bevan, gliding in from the back of the hall in a red dress of startling Oscar night glamour and a necklace that befitted the goddess of the moon, drew gasps of appreciation – for her singing too! I’m not sure how thrilled Iphigénie was to be saved by her. If there is a criticism to be made, it is that it was none of the cast or chorus were entirely at home in French.

Iestyn Davies had two advantages the following night as Orfeo. Firstly that he had learned the part by heart, and secondly that much of the opera is in fact Orfeo’s solo cantata so that Davies could hold the stage knowing that all the attention was on him, even without the benefits of costume, lighting and scenery. He used his stagecraft to deliver an interpretation of outstanding authority. As Euridice, Lydia Teuscher was distinguished and her voice mixed well with Davies’ countertenor, especially when his register dropped towards the ‘normal’ tenor range. Davies is rare in being able to cover the transition so smoothly that his gear changes are unnoticeable.

After the nights of Handel and Gluck, Vivaldi’s Giustino was something of an anticlimax. The vocal ensemble was excellent, the singers adept, the playing pleasant enough (if, in truth, not quite as polished as OAE’s or Europa Galante’s) and Ottavio Dantone kept it moving. The trouble is that, unlike Handel, Vivaldi’s vocal writing was never quite as inventive as his instrumental concerti. Put crudely, the tunes are just not as good. And being that generation younger than Gluck, his drama does not carry the same force. Handel made opera seria work because his arias were spellbinding. None of his Italian rivals could make it sound anything but high quality routine. It took Gluck to sort that out and pave the way for Mozart.