What was the first third of the Festival like?
“Tightrope walking” in concert halls.
The artists pushed their limits – inspired choices, compositions of great virtuosity
The first eight days of George Enescu International Festival brought music lovers no less than 27 concerts with 75 works by 47 composers. Spectators had the chance to compare the sounds of extraordinary world‑class orchestras, to analyse the conducting styles of contemporary giants, to meet expressive, technical lyrical artists, with voices full of personality and colour, in memorable recitals, to listen to rare pieces, premieres and an extended repertoire from subtle, flourishing, lacy baroque to the great classics, massive and overwhelming, to minimalist and expressive contemporary composers.
The key of the first third of the Festival was pushing limits – most artists and ensembles chose compositions of great virtuosity, presenting a fresh vision to the public, the result of intense practice.
Everyone’s attention focused on the beginning of the Festival, with the Palace Hall hosting plenty of music lovers, connoisseurs and amateurs alike, curious to see how Kirill Petrenko, the new conductor of the famous Berliner Philharmoniker, took over the stand of the renowned orchestra. Enescu’s Rhapsody no. 2 and Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9, in the symbolically chosen repertoire, generated numerous comments about the deeply European roots of Enescu’s music, our cultural identity and the invitation to harmony. Alle Menschen werden Bruder, interpreted with glamorous accents by the Choir of the George Enescu Philharmonic, carried a statement of intention over the music. Accurate like a Swiss clock, the orchestra proposed a settled, solid, tempered discourse under the baton of maestro K. Petrenko.
In the evening, La Cetra d’Orfeo, with a repertoire full of flavour and instruments we rarely see and use, like theorbo, viola da gamba or vihuela, complemented by small dance movements, powdered the atmosphere at the Athenaeum with a baroque fragrance. Elegance imported to this day and age without being outdated, a splendid control of the show and a friendly connection with the audience.
Day 2 seems to have been categorically dominated by soprano Diana Damrau’s glamour; the entire city vibrated with expectation for her afternoon concert.
Before that, however, two other memorable moments; Monte Piano Trio opened the concert day with the chords of Enescu’s Trio in A minor, followed by Sérénade lointaine, two pieces lost and found among manuscripts, like a subtle reference to the cyclical rediscovery of Enescu’s works during the Festival bearing his name.
The Music of the 21st Century opened with a composition heard for the very first time, written by Sabina Ulubeanu for the Royal Camerata. Thus, the section began with a speech on emotion – the expression of a momentary state – #justacomposer, and ended with David Phillipe Hefti’s Changements, a music story about the change and fluidity of emotions.
The recital of Diana Damrau and Xavier de Maistre will remain a landmark in the Festival’s history. The soprano seduced her audience with a smartly chosen repertoire, the music fingerprints of Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, Poulenc, pure poetry, stanzas by Verlaine, Goethe, Heine, Pushkin, and Schiller, which emphasised her impeccable vocal technique and musical gift. Beyond the discipline and the hard work that are part of the exemplarity of her interpretation, the timbre and sound she gave to her performance make for an exceptional set of qualities.
The harp, another surprising heroine of the day, revealed itself delicate in the hands of the inspired Xavier de Maistre, in his dialogue with the voice of Diana Damrau, completing the sense of space coming down from an eon of harmony. The harp’s solo moments, including a piece written by Enescu specially for harp, Debussy’s lacy sound and transpositions of works by Franz Liszt, revealed an artist with strength and sensibility alike.
The day of 1 September continued with the Berlin Philharmonic’s second performance in the Festival, this time with Schoenberg and his challenging violin concerto interpreted by Patricia Kopatchinskaja: fully immersed in music, rebellious, dramatic, just like her fans expected her to be. Then Tchaikovsky’s absolutely charming Fifth Symphony with its overflowing romanticism seizing the listeners, beyond the orchestra’s perfect technique.
The day ended with the humorous, charming performance of the 12 cellists of the Berliner Philharmoniker. An exercise of recovery of the splendid musical formulas and sounds of cello. They played, in specific transpositions, works from Piazzolla to Dvorak, Shostakovich and Duke Ellington.
Day 3 was built around two sensational pillars: the concert given by London Symphony Orchestra, the crystal clear sound of the ensemble led by Gianandrea Noseda and the journey through emotions led by mezzosoprano Joyce DiDonato. The violin-piano dialogue of Luminița Petre and Mihai Ungureanu, to the sound of Enescu, Franck and Clara Schumann, completed the image of the day.
Joyce DiDonato’s personality, along with her charming voice and her practiced, sophisticated mezzosoprano timbre, associated with arias chosen to describe a journey into the world of emotions, burst out from the stage of the Athenaeum straight into the listeners’ hearts. Haydn, Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Hahn – inspired choices, treated with composure, a message of hope and confidence, and an audience charmed forever.
London Symphony Orchestra proposed a fully Russian repertoire covering the early 20th century, with Shostakovich, Rimsky-Korsakov and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto, with Denis Matsuev on piano. The British orchestra served once again the lesson of an ensemble coming from a kingdom, because royal was the sound accurately controlled by Maestro Noseda and the implicit presence of the orchestra. Denis Matsuev joined his talent with a concerto of great virtuosity and proposed a version that flattered his exceptional technique.
Day 4. At the Palace Hall, London Symphony Orchestra chose George Enescu’s poem Vox Maris for the opening of its second concert, and Britten’s Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia in counterpoint. The sea and its many images, one would say, and at the same time the day when the great orchestra showed its great capacity of nuance and amplitude. Iain Bell’s The Hidden Place allowed Diana Damrau to take the audience at the Palace Hall by storm and seduce it for good, with the orchestra turning into a dialogue partner for the seasons of the piece and the fabulous transitions from diaphanous recitations to the deep, overwhelming vocalisation of the diva Damrau.
At the Athenaeum, maestro Lawrence Foster proposed a new construction in his personal note of discoverer and curator of sounds and symbols. The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra opened the day, under his baton, with Romanian composer Adrian Pop’s composition “Solstice”, and continued with Chopin and Lutosławski, both Polish composers. Maestro Foster does what he does best, recovering treasures and bringing them out to light, repairing the marks left by history on talent, wherever he may travel.
Day 5. The incontestable star of the day, opera in concert. The impeccable and rare Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Palace Hall, with maestro Vladimir Jurowski leading the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, and Bluebeard’s Castle, the only opera composed by Bela Bartók, at the Athenaeum, under the baton of maestro Cristian Mandeal, conducting the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. Both shows had multimedia projections and were directed by Carmen Lidia Vidu and Nona Ciobanu. Two profound works full of symbols, compositions with complex architectures, the sonorities of the 20th century, chromatic harmonies, and huge sounds crashing down on the audience. The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin overwhelmed with its formidable expressivity and strength. We saw a composed, balanced Jurowski, a shaman of sounds who truly ravished the audience bold enough to witness a marathon show of three and a half hours.
Day 6. Lera Auerbach at the helm of “Transylvania” Philharmonic Orchestra opened the Festival day presenting her vision of her own works: Serenade for a melancholic sea, Symphony No. 1 and the special composition Zweifacher Traum (A Twofold Dream) – a composition rewritten by Auerbach based on a few of Mozart’s works. A novel dialogue between the great classical composer and a contemporary one.
Orchestre de Chambre Pelléas under the baton of Benjamin Levy approached the contemporary period of music with a safe recipe: Debussy’s Sarabande (orchestrated by Maurice Ravel), Enescu’s Violin Sonata no. 3 (arranged for orchestra by Valentin Doni), Ravel’s Tzigane, Chabrier’s Bourrée Fantasque (orchestrated by Thibaud Perrine), and ended the evening in the purest classical style, with Bizet’s Symphony in C.
The extraordinary version of George Enescu’s Symphony No. 3 performed by the Rundfunk‑Sinfonieorchester Berlin under the baton of maestro Jurowski will remain truly memorable. An interpretive version seemingly arising from a secret connection with Enescu’s work, which sounded fantastic. The three troubling parts, composed in different historical periods, acquired a new reference in this interpretation. In the first part of the evening, the splendid Julia Fischer performed Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, another heavyweight composition for the concert at the Palace Hall.
Later, the Europa Galante ensemble conducted by Fabio Biondi continued the series of lyrical proposals in the By Midnight series, with Handel’s opera Silla. A rarely performed baroque composition with a particular history, composed in a somewhat political manner, originally performed only once, and then resumed by Handel in another opera. The show included an interesting cast, the presence of a contralto in the leading role, Sonia Prina, and the extraordinary mezzosoprano Vivica Genaux, with a superhuman control of her voice and inflections.
Day 7. Cameristi della Scala, under the baton of Wilson Hermanto, brought back to attention Enescu’s String Octet in a version by maestro Lawrence Foster, focused on the king cello in Haydn’s concerto and in the harmonies with a typical Slavic depth of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade. The cellist was Daniel Müller‑Schott.
The Orchestre National de France, with Evgeny Kissin on piano and Emmanuel Krivine at the conductor’s stand, focused once again music lovers’ attention. The invasion of great artists on every stage of the Festival during this period makes it difficult to choose among concerts. However, the Palace Hall is an irresistible magnet for many. How else, when one of the best orchestras in the world for many years now proposes Liszt and Mussorgsky/Ravel in its repertoire, along with one of the most popular pianists today. The Piano Concerto No. 2 has, in itself, a history of being polished and reviewed for over 10 years. The concerto is a technical one, and Kissin showed his vision and mastery.
In the Music of the 21st Century series, New European Ensemble came on stage under the baton of José María Sánchez-Verdú with a work by Carlo Boccadoro heard for the first time and, among others, with Adrian Pop’s “Silk and Metal” Quartet.
In the By Midnight section, Orchestra of The Age of Enlightenment (OAE) conducted by Laurence Cummings with a formula of young musicians along with experienced lyrical artists like Anna Caterina Antonacci, Christopher Maltman or Toby Spence, put the final chords of the day in the note we have become accustomed to – rare, difficult lyrical operas. Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride. A story, Greek theatre in concert version, expressively represented by the orchestra, the soloists and the choir.
Day 8. The morning began with Charles Richard Hamelin’s piano recital and an impeccable repertoire: Ravel, Enescu and Debussy.
Later, in the Music of the 21st Century section, the Philharmonic Orchestra of Bacău conducted by Jayce Ogren presented a series of works by Adrian Iorgulescu, Adam Schonberg, Avner Dorman and Xiogang Ye. A diversity of sounds – clarinet, violin, percussion – with a first-class role.
In the afternoon, violinist Julia Fischer in a recital with pianist Henri Bonamy with works by Enescu, Mozart, Brahms and Ravel – plain, but charming. The Orchestre National de France with maestro Ion Marin at the helm proposed George Enescu’s Suite No. 1 in the beginning, and an extraordinary Images pour orchestra by Debussy, at the end. In between, Ravel’s Piano Concerto No. 2, an almost jazzy poem-concerto with references to Rachmaninoff, Gershwin and Debussy, gracefully “recited” by Alexandra Dariescu, a Romanian pianist in clear evolution, in a refined and expressive manner.
The evening ended in a rare crescendo of value and in the usual vein, with a new lyrical jewel: Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, with a solid cast and a rare countertenor role interpreted perfectly by Iestyn Davies.
Translation provided by Biroul de Traduceri Champollion