”The music of George Enescu continues to be a source of discovery for me. As the Fates would have it, though, his Chamber Symphony for 12 Instruments was already familiar to me from a recent Ondine recording by Hannu Lintu conducting the Tampere Philharmonic, which I reviewed only as recently as 36:2. In that review, I stated that the work was new to me and that I had no other versions against which to compare it. Well, that situation didn’t last long, for here is another performance of the piece, which, on my first hearing of it under Lintu, didn’t make a very favorable impression.
Despite its low opus number, the Chamber Symphony is Enescu’s final work. The composer’s close friend, Marcel Mihalovici, was called upon to complete the score after Enescu suffered a severe stroke in 1954. There are, of course, far, far more than 33 works in Enescu’s catalog; it’s just that most of them are without opus number.
Considering the more exotic scoring of Schreker’s Chamber Symphony, also on this disc, instrumentation for the Enescu is fairly conservative, consisting of flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, violin, viola, cello, double bass, and piano. Still, this is not an easy work to assimilate. The mood is dark, often menacing, and sometimes of a bitter, burlesque character, as in the trumpet solo at the beginning of the last movement. The style is somewhat reminiscent of Schoenberg’s pre-12-tone Expressionist works, with passages here and there that sound like they could have come from a scene in Berg’s Wozzeck.
This much I can say: Enescu’s Chamber Symphony found me in more receptive ear to this performance by Wolynec and the Gateway Chamber Orchestra than did the performance by Lintu and his Tampere ensemble. Whether it was increasing familiarity with the piece that was breaking down my resistance or a more illuminating and sympathetic reading by Wolynec and crew it’s hard to say. In terms of execution, both ensembles are very fine, but it could be Summit’s SACD recording that gives Wolynec and the GCO the edge by providing extra clarity to the individual instrumental voices.
Franz Schreker’s Chamber Symphony for 23 Players (1916) may not be much more familiar than the Enescu opus, but it’s a very different animal, one you’re likely to embrace and fall in love with on a very first hearing. Despite its unusual scoring… flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, harmonium, piano, four violins, two violas, three cellos, and double bass… Schreker’s work is in a post-Mahler, hyper- Romantic idiom that follows in the footsteps of Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night (1899) and Webern’s Im Sommerwind (1904) and echoes the style and vocabulary of Strauss’s tone poems. Schreker’s Chamber Symphony is, in fact, a 27-minute-long tone poem without a specific program or literary subject, but you could easily get caught up in its wordless, abstract narrative.
Much the same can be said of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony for 15 Soloists. However, though completed in 1906, 10 years before Schreker’s opus, Schoenberg’s work is less of a post-Mahler, hyper-Romantic score than it is an angst-ridden, Expressionist canvas fairly typical of the composer’s transition period between Transfigured Night and his 12-tone works. Harmonic and tonal mooring become tenuous and there’s a feeling of desperation to the music that foreshadows Erwartung of three years later. Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony may be a decade ahead of Schreker’s Chamber Symphony in terms of modernist compositional technique, but it’s not nearly as pretty a listen.
This program of three works is brilliantly conceived, for there are enough commonalities between them to make them logical discmates, while at the same time, there are sufficient differences in their respective composers’ styles, musical vocabularies, and scorings to offer contrasts in content and textures. Wolynec’s Gateway Chamber Orchestra continues to impress me immensely with this release. The players may be university faculty members augmented by practicing musicians from the outside community, but in every way these are topnotch, professional performances that match or outclass the competition.
As noted earlier, Summit’s magnificent SACD recording is also a significant asset in clarifying scores of this complexity, but in the end, the main credit has to go to Gregory Wolynec and his outstanding Gateway Chamber Orchestra players for their fantastic achievement. I commend this release to you with my strongest recommendation.”
Jerry Dubins for Fanfare
SOUND: 5 STARS –
Please note: This is an SACD/Hybrid product and can be played in your standard CD player; however, if you have Super Audio capability, you’re in for an incredible-surround experience!