Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
12:00 AM 18th May 2024

Classical Music: Bacewicz, Enescu, Ysaÿe - Works For Strings

Bacewicz, Enescu, Ysaÿe - Works For Strings
Bacewicz (1909-1969) Concerto for String Orchestra; Ysaÿe (1858-1931) Harmonies du soir (Poème No. 8), Op. 31; Enescu (1881-1955) String Octet in C major, Op. 7

Sinfonia of London - Conductor John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5325

Going abroad with John Wilson’s Sinfonia of London is an exciting prospect. You will be sure to discover something neoteric: colourful, vibrant, and spirited music and people and, by the end, a return visit is definitely on the cards.

And so, as he continues to win a plethora of awards, this new release from Chandos features three composers from the Franco-Belgian school of string pedagogy who were all themselves virtuosic string players: Bacewicz, Enescu, and Ysaÿe.

In 1950, Enescu penned a preface for a new edition of his Octet, endorsing its performance by a full-string orchestra, as heard on this recording. It’s an exciting work, performed with conviction. The second movement is taken at a thrilling pace, which calms down for the lovely lentement third. The musicians expressively shape the melodic lines. Enescu was only 19 when he completed the Octet on 5 December 1900, and according to Mervyn Cooke’s informative notes, it was published five years later, but he had to wait until 1909 for its first performance, which was given by the combined Geloso and Chailley string quartets in Paris. Like Mendelssohn, who was also a teenager when he composed his Octet, it is a self-assured and spirited composition well worth exploring.

Ysaÿe’s Harmonies du soir is scored for string quartet and string orchestra, enabling Ysaÿe to exploit the contrast between intimate and full string sound, a technique inspired by Vaughan Williams in his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, as Cooke points out.

Lovely textures underpin the work, and the Sinfonia of London's playing is wonderfully articulate, with clear lower strings, all with a lovely intensity that is sensitively caught as the final notes evaporate.

Bacewicz was, among other things, a groundbreaking composer. A great deal of her output was written for strings, and she is often described as neoclassical. Her Concerto for Strings takes some inspiration from the baroque concerto grosso but is distinctly modern in its harmonic language and was particularly admired by Lutosławski. Wilson’s players have an energy and warmth that do justice to the piece. The pianissimo playing in the andante is enchanting, and the rhythmical vivo finale rounds off a journey that will undoubtedly be an enjoyable discovery for those new to these three European composers.