GEORGE ENESCU – The Second String Quartet

Romanian composer George Enescu [1881-1955] wrote two string quartets. I am going to discuss the second quartet as it has a more abstract flavour than the first. It was written in 1952 and contains four movements.

The work opens with a solo violin which is soon joined by the second violin. A slightly abstract melody meanders through the opening. Support comes from the cello and viola as the melody becomes a little busy. A few violin sound effects lead into a skittish passage. The violin then dominates to create a beguiling atmosphere. The cello moves the music into a tempo and the first violin continues its meandering. Towards the end, there is a hint of darkness and the melody becomes more pronounced. It is all very quiet, with the cello taking the movement out, ever so peacefully.

Solo cello begins the second movement, with the violins eventually appearing as accompaniment. The cello continues to feature with subtle violin tones in the background. Then the cello drops out and we are left with a very slow violin melody, similar to the first movement; it is beautifully abstract. The cello returns briefly but departs leaving the violins to create a most wonderful soundscape. The whole quartet is involved, but only for a moment as the music returns to a passage of violin and intermittent cello. Suddenly the intensity rises and some chord interjections occur. Now it returns to a very precious mood; the tempo has gone and all things are very sparse. A long pause leads back to the solo cello and a violin joins in to fade to a finish. This is a most impalpable, enchanting movement.

The third movement begins with cello again but it is soon overtaken by violins with various string sound effects. There are agitated melodies while the cello remains as a pulse; then there is a lot more melodic action. The intensity drops again and we are left with a wonderful, sparse feeling. The cello takes over and ringing violin tones fade to the end.

A loud flourish opens the last movement. The violins are dance-like and well pleased with themselves. The cello and viola join in and thicken the sound and the mood. A sparse passage emerges, together with a longing melody. The opening feeling returns for a time, until the ensemble comes back in; a little chaos and abstraction emerge from the violins. This section sustains the feeling for quite a while. The texture is now dense as the quartet plays with aggression. The music is full of flourishes and energetic violin lines. The end is accomplished with a flourish.

This is a quietly intense quartet. It employs several hints of Modernism. I found it to be very satisfying. I may discuss No. 1 at some stage. It is a bit of an epic, clocking in at 46 minutes! This has a much more conservative flavour, being written in 1920.

There are several versions of this pairing on Amazon US and UK. I reviewed the one on Naxos, String Quartets 1 & 2 by the Ad Libitum Quartet.

A complete performance and various single movements can be found on youtube. They are also on Spotify.

Listenability: Interesting, brooding, but not too dark!

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