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
Tuesday 3 September 2019
Adrian Pop Solstice
Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Lawrence Foster Conductor
Thursday 5 September
Radio Romania Concert Hall
Lera Auerbach Serenade for a Melancholic Sea
Mozart – Auerbach Zweifacher Traum
Transylvania Philharmonic Orchestra, Cluj-Napoca Trio Boulanger
Lera Auerbach Conductor
Grand Palace Hall
Georg Katzer Discorso
Mozart – Auerbach Zweifacher Traum
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski Conductor
Friday 6 September 2019
Radio Romania Concert Hall
Carlo Boccadoro Primo Taccuino dell’ombra e della Lucia
Peter Adriaansz Alernatim
Adrian Pop La Seda y el Metal
Sanchez-Verdu Lux ex Tenebris
New European Ensemble
Jose Maria Sanchez-Verdu Conductor
Sunday 8 September 2019
Richard Dünser The Waste Land
ORF Symphony Orchestra, Vienna
Horia Andreescu Conductor
Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra may now have achieved the status of a modern classic but it is still special to be able to hear a pair of remarkably different but equally admirable and beautifully played interpretations as Lawrence Foster’s in Bucharest and Daniel Barenboim’s at The Proms (see earlier post) within a month.
The contrasts were in approach and personality but were governed as much by the acoustics of the respective halls and the outlook of the orchestras. Foster is a conductor who, while being very straightforward in presenting works, treats them as tone poems, aiming for an overall logic and coherence of sound. Barenboim is a clockmaker, lovingly removing the case and examining the workings.
These characteristics were emphasised by the orchestras themselves. Foster was working with Polish Radio’s Symphony Orchestra, for which Lutoslawski’s music is as much part of their heritage as Chopin or Szymanowski. Many of them will have known the composer personally. Barenboim was working with the young players of the East-West Divan Orchestra, drawn equally from Israel, the Arab world and Europe, for whom it must have been fascinating but utterly novel. They had rehearsed and workshopped it with Barenboim for weeks. Then, again, Foster’s forces were performing in the cramped space and very lively acoustic of the Athenaeum – where loud is almost deafening and individual instrument lines are swamped – Barenboim in the wide acres of the Royal Albert Hall, where loud is a concept rather than an experience and every micro-detail of the playing can be heard brutally articulated.
The result of comparing the performances was that, for me, the winner was Lutoslwski’s music, revealing itself as a modernist masterpiece of fresh sounds on the one hand and a post-romantic validation of orchestral thought on the other. It can be intricate but it never loses its shape. I suspect Lera Auerbach is a composer cut from the same cloth. Now in her forties, she is an artist (the word is used advisedly because she does not confine herself to music) of formidable range and intellect.
Born in Russia, she settled in New York in her teens and emerged from her student years as an exceptional pianist and composer – a sort of 1990s Prokofiev. Her Serenade for a Melancholic Sea from 2002 is not one you would hum beneath a porthole – it is too astringent for that, with a piano trio balanced against a line of about twenty strings, of which only the solo violin is lyrical. It is, though, an intriguing and idiomatic piece that immediately marks her out as more interesting, and less obviously influenced by any particular ‘school’, than many of her contemporaries.
Her Concerto Grosso Zweifacher Traum, is truly masterly; not a version or orchestration of Mozart, but a reworking that pulls together elements of many of his concertante pieces. It reminds me rather of the poems of Rilke rewritten by my friend Jo Shapcott in Tender Taxes, which she described as ‘conversations with’ the earlier writer. Auerbach’s work from 2017 keeps alluding to snippets that one can’t quite place, familiar but new at the same time. It is as if Mozart had run through a few thoughts with her and asked her to stitch them together two hundred years later – witty, very clever and pleasantly exasperating.
Adrian Pop was for many years the director of the Transylvania Philharmonic that was performing Auerbach’s music. Now in his late 60s he is one of Romania’s finest living composers and Solstice, written in 1979 but revised in 2013, is something of a signature piece. It pitches shimmering fiddles against solemn brass and lower strings. There are bubbling parts for wind and a fine moment of calm when the music almost comes to a halt before the final chorale. It is rewarding and Foster and the PRNSO made sure it was. Less so is his response to Neruda’s poetry, La Seda y el Metal, also finished in 2013. Like Dünser’s reading of Eliot’s The Waste Land (heard a few nights later) it has a hard time conveying the elegance and complexity of the original words. This is, of course, a problem shared with all those 19th century composers who wrote orchestral versions of Goethe’s poems. Dünser, eight years younger than Pop, manages even worse, however, incorporating so much that was wrong with late modernism at the turn of this century: worn-out and obvious gestures, tedious dialogue across the orchestral sections, stylistic grammar that had become mere convention – in other words everything that Eliot was not.
Georg Katzer was a composer who died this year and had spent much of his working life in the old and unlamented East Germany. In a long life he explored all the varied ‘isms’ of his time and Discorso, written last year, shows the traces they left behind. It seems sad that this should have been his last major work. He must have known it would be because he described it as a prelude to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Jorowski presented it with clarity and commitment but somehow it all felt a bit futile, Katzer’s material lacking the spark to make it significant, as if the discourse it contained was only chit-chat.
Reading back my notes on the pieces by Boccadero, Adriaansz and Sanchez-Verdu, I realise I lost patience and my temper quite early on – though I tortured both for over an hour before I could stand it no more. That was about half an hour into Sanchez-Verdu’s interminable blatherings when nothing much had moved on from the first five minutes. It was even more grim than Adriaansz’s snore inducing nonsense that had an awful lot of instruments competing over who could play the same note more boringly. Before them Boccadero’s work was competent and at least had some contrasts, even if they were classic plink-plonk versus tediously gloomy. It just confirmed the old but necessary axiom that if you are going to discover the masterpieces in any age you have to hear the dross as well so that the sifting can begin.