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During and well beyond his lifetime, George Enescu (1881-1955) was best known as a violinist and as composer of that perennial pops concert favorite, the Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, written in 1901. He was then on the verge of making his mark as a touring violin virtuoso, in a repertory that ranged from Bach to Brahms. He was also an active conductor of a similarly broad repertoire, including, of course, his own compositions. As a teacher he is remembered particularly as the mentor of the young Yehudi Menuhin, and was as well as the composition teacher of his countryman, the brilliant, short-lived pianist Dinu Lipatti.
Enescu left his native Romania at age seven to study in Vienna with Joseph Hellmesberger, a noted violin pedagogue and director of the Vienna Musical Academy, whose father had been a friend and collaborator of Beethoven. Brahms (under whose baton the boy had once played in the Academy orchestra), Wagner ("his chromaticism became part of my vascular system"), and his own East-European folk heritage were to remain influences throughout his life.
Graduating from the Vienna Academy at the age of 11, he moved to Paris to study composition with Massenet and Fauré. The almost legendary accomplishment of his fifteenth year was his appearance as soloist in Paris on the same program in the Beethoven Violin Concerto and the Liszt E-flat Piano Concerto.
Enescu was, furthermore, an active chamber-music player, forming his own string quartet, participating in various trios, and serving as recital partner to the likes of Jacques Thibaud, Pablo Casals, Menuhin, and, at the end of his (Enescu's) life, David Oistrakh.
With all his touring from his primary base in Paris, Enescu nonetheless remained dedicated to his native Romania, retaining a home there and playing an active part in its artistic life from the early years of the century until the late-1930s.
Enescu's major compositions received little exposure, however, unless he was participating in their presentation -- as violinist, pianist, or conductor. In the past dozen years the situation has changed considerably, with the emergence of a fervent advocate, the American conductor (of Romanian parentage) Lawrence Foster, who has brought Enescu's music to light in concert, on the operatic stage (the lyric tragedy Oedipe is widely regarded as the composer's masterpiece), and on recordings.
Not least among Enescu's larger works are three orchestral suites, whose composition spans his entire creative career: the first dating from 1901-1902, the second from 1915, the last from 1938.
The First Suite, in C, was introduced under its composer's direction at a concert of the Bucharest Philharmonic Society (of which he was later to become director) on February 23, 1903. On the program as well were the first performances of his two Romanian Rhapsodies, whose more obvious populist style attracted most of the attention.
Most striking in the Suite in C are the first two movements which, following the composer's practice in his own later appearances as a conductor, are heard as an entity to begin this program. The opening movement is scored for strings (violins, mainly), playing in unison a broad melody of decidedly Eastern European cast, with the timpani entering ominously in a long crescendo, leading into the second movement, a slow, lushly textured minuet based on a sad, descending three-note phrase.
-- Note by Herbert Glass