WE ARE a long way here from the epic stance, the grandiloquence of a Rostropovich. Modesty marks out Heinrich Schiff's reading: his way is intimate, conversational - homely. It's the kind of performance you can relax into, a performance with nothing to prove and everything to enjoy.
Previn and the Vienna Philharmonic play their part, rolling out the introduction with a sense of well-being that only long-practised tradition brings. You know you're in for a good time from the moment their distinctive solo horn sinks gratefully into the second subject and the warming sostenuto of their strings lends harmonic support. When Schiff takes up the theme, he muses over it, scaling down his sound, inflecting gently, almost unassumingly. He shrugs off display, moving his fingers around even the most strenuous passage-work with the deftness of a country fiddler. Dvorak's homespun tunes emerge naturally, honestly, one phrase melting into the next on heart-easing little turns.
Just maybe Schiff could have taken more time looking back from the homesick epilogue. But that would be to risk drawing attention to himself - not his style at all. Among the encores it's fun hearing Slavonic Dance No 8 come in from the fields to the drawing-room. ES
CRITICS should be banned from talking about 'definitive' performances. Surely to 'define' how a piece should be performed is to give it the kiss of death. The old Rostropovich/Karajan Dvorak Concerto is a classic, but this new version is quite different and entirely convincing on its own terms.
Rostropovich sings out in long sweeping lines: the heart speaks, impulse reigns - it's Karajan who, discreetly, keeps his hand on the controls. Schiff is much more of a thinker, and he has an almost unnerving ability to home in on tiny expressive details without losing that sense of the larger shape. The emotions may not be so obvious, so bold as those of Rostropovich, but there's a heightened confidentiality - a chamber music-like intimacy and subtlety. Previn's response is well attuned; he allows the Viennese players to respond to Schiff's fine detailing with imaginative little touches of their own - a gurgling clarinet figure, for instance.
Transferred from podium to piano stool, Previn shows how effective he can be as a straightforward accompanist, and Schiff is stylish, entertaining, but able to glance back at the world of the concerto in the first of these little pieces, Silent Woods. We shouldn't be greedy, I know, but I look forward to seeing what he'll un-define next. SJ
ENESCO: Symphonies Nos 1 and 2 - Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra / Lawrence Foster (EMI CDC 7 54763 2)
IF YOU have a taste for the exotic and a head for the rhapsodic, then take a deep breath and plunge in. Don't think you know Georges Enesco from his Romanian Rhapsodies - believe me, you don't. The music of these remarkable symphonies has been refracted through so many influences that it's almost impossible to place him. Yet here he is, proud and adventurous, theatrical, wildly unpredictable, a true citizen of pre-war Europe wielding his orchestra with as much accomplishment, flamboyance, and individuality as his violin.
Symphony No 1 is already highly developed, Brahmsian in manner (to a point), rebellious in nature. In the first movement, a Vienna-bred lyricism is unsettled by winds of change. The date is 1905. The slow movement is post-Wagner all the way: a voluptuousness redolent of early Schoenberg woven into a kind of eternal song. Symphony No 2, from 1914, goes further along that road, the vaulting ambition of its first movement suggestive of a Romanian Don Juan.
Scriabin and Szymanowski are obvious parallels - and yet, this is so clearly the music of neither. The final outcome is startling: recollections of the melancholic slow movement collide with a Mahlerian allegro marziale, solo piano comes on like the Warsaw Concerto. Just one of Enesco's little surprises. These vital performances under Lawrence Foster have the sound of a major rediscovery. Just so. ES
GEORGES Enesco is a deserving case - there are fine things among the chamber pieces, and the opera Oedipe is real discovery. But I found I had to keep reminding myself of that during these two sprawling, late-Romantic effusions. There's plenty of imaginative, atmospheric writing, here and there a truly individual touch, and you can't question the intensity of the feelings behind it all. So why did I have to force myself to continue? The problem seems to be that when it comes to the basic stuff of Romantic symphony-writing: distinctive, fertile motifs, soaring tunes . . . well, he could do it, as quite a few other pieces show, but here so much is diffuse, orotund - and surprisingly unmemorable.
The slow movements seem to work best, but then the composers they echo - Strauss, Szymanowski, perhaps the early Bartok - did it so much better. The trouble is, we still expect something special when we see the word 'Symphony', though the number of composers who could give their best in the form is relatively small. On the evidence of this disc, Enesco wasn't one of them. SJReuse content