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


Thursday 5 September 2019

Romanian Athenaeum

Enescu Valentin Doni Sonata No. 3
Mozart-Auerbach Tzigane

Pelleas Chamber Orchestra
Tasmin Little Violin
Benjamin Levy Conductor

Thursday 5 September 2019

Radio Romania Hall

Auerbach Serenade for a Melancholic Sea
Mozart-Auerbach Zwifacher Traum (Double Dream)

Transylvania Philharmonic Orchestra of Cluj-Napoca
Boulanger Trio and

Birgit Erz Violin
Ilona Kindt Cello
Karla Haltenwanger Piano
Lera Auerbach Conductor

Thursday 5 September 2019

Grand Palace Hall

Brahms Violin Concerto

Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Julia Fischer Violin
Vladimir Jurovski Conductor

Saturday 7 September 2019

Romanian Athenaeum

Enescu Sonata No. 2
Brahms Sonata No. 1

Julia Fischer Violin
Henri Bonamy Piano

The Review

One of the joys of this festival is that you can hear three very different violinists, in very different repertoire, between tea and suppertime. It is revealing not just in terms of relative quality but of their attitudes to music-making.

Birgit Erz plays in a long-established trio, Trio Boulanger based in Germany, and has all the sensitivity of the experienced chamber musician but the technique and confidence of a soloist. In Bucharest, playing largely for the radio microphones since the hall on a hot afternoon was only 10% full, she tackled the demanding but subtle music of Lera Auerbach with the composer conducting (more about that in a later post). Auerbach sets the violinist the problem of how to bring out the astringency of her contemporary style while seamlessly leading into passages of lyricism. This was expertly done in the complex Serenade but was even more valuable in her Mozart infused Zweifacher Traum, where Erz had to combine Auerbach’s ingenious style with snatches of Mozart’s best known tunes.

40 minutes and a brisk walk in the sun later, I was out of the modern radio hall and into the marble and wood extravagance of the Athenaeum, listening to a concert where subtlety was in short supply. The Pelleas Chamber Orchestra from France, under Benjamin Levy, clearly regard ensemble as of secondary importance, compared to expressive opulence. The result is at best scratchy. It would have been nice to hear a violin section rather than a group of violinists and others trying to individually upstage Tasmin Little. Her contribution was difficult enough anyway – in fact I don’t think I’ve ever heard a violinist who had to work so hard in the first half of a concert. The Enescu Third Sonata is a trial of technique and endurance at the best of times. In this new arrangement by Valentin Doni, the soloist is asked to fight against overwhelming forces of brass and woodwind. Too often it was a battle she could not win, despite the muscularity of her tone. There have been many good attempts at turning a sonata into a concerto but they only work if the solo voice is able to remain the main focus of attention. If the accompaniment becomes dominant the balance and clarity is lost.

Ravel knew that when he set his Tzigane for orchestra. Despite its energy which borders on the riotous at times, the virtuoso violin leads the fray. Tasmin Little has the wit and a hint of wickedness to carry this off with panache. Tzigane is a work, I have to admit, I dislike intensely – not one of Ravel’s better ideas – but if it must be done, it should be done Tasmin Little’s way. She has announced she has had enough of public performing and will step aside next year. It’s a decision many will respect but wish she was making two decades from now.

Tzigane and an Enescu sonata also featured in Julia Fischer’s recital in the same hall two afternoons later. Fischer has a sweetness of tone that is always a joy to listen to. She also makes it clear that she takes every work seriously. Neither attributes suit Tzigane, though. Her Gypsy gathering was clearly one where only camomile tea was served to ensure the guests were on their best behaviour. Enescu’s second sonata was too careful in her hands – it is a dark and brooding work and needs an interpretor who feels its emotional complexity. Neither Bonamy (who played much too loudly and was rarely together with his partner) nor Fischer had the measure of it and I’m not even sure they admired it: simply not their sort of music.

In Brahms, though, Julia Fischer is in her element. She understands the passions and repressions that drive his music, the north German understatement that just conceals the turmoil beneath. She was at her best in the instense melancholy of the second movement of the sonata and the elegantly contemplative third. Her reading of the concerto with Jurowski took a while to get going – suggesting that they began with differing approaches: hers, thoughtful and a little hesitant at the start, gradually gaining in confidence and conviction until cutting free in the final movement; his clearly more interested in the intricacies of the orchestral detail than overall shape. Both were valid but when combined made for a puzzling performance.