The naturalness of embraced emotion: Andrei Ioniță and Valery Gergiev at the George Enescu Festival
The programme of 10 September announced, in a dry, yet comforting manner, a music meant to take the soul from under the crushing, intense weight of Bruckner’s symphony the night before: Enescu – Symphony no. 1 in E flat major op. 13 (1905), Saint-Saëns – Concerto no. 1 for cello and orchestra in A minor op. 33 (1873) and Rimsky-Korsakov – Symphonic Suite op. 35 “Scheherazade” (1885).
Text by Sabina Ulubeanu, composer
So we had a large-scale symphonic composition, the first of its kind that Enescu considered out of those proper for school, in the end a work that could be taught in school, as there is no composer who does not look first at Rimsky-Korsakov when he learns how to orchestrate, and in between, a jewel concert, light as a feather and romantic in the most beautiful sense of the word.
In Enescu’s Symphony no. 1, Valery Gergiev and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra revealed rather the Germanic spirit and the exacting construction of the work, and they did it impeccably, even with boldness, highlighting the impetuous side of the composition to the detriment of the famous Enescu’s withdrawals from the score, important because they can be perceived from the very beginning of the symphony: the first exposition of the theme, in the brass section, is straightforward, vigorous, while the very next phrasing shows it a little more delayed, a little sweeter, in the strings section, enveloped by the entire orchestra. These contrasts are what gives flavour to the early music of Enescu, when his solid studies, recognisable in his works, gradually made room for the originality at the peak of his career.
With Saint-Saëns’ concerto, we saw a different side of the orchestra and of Gergiev’s gentleness: a fine, delicate accompaniment, bright iridescences of the cello’s score in the orchestra, an almost paternal concern, mixed with admiration for the soloist, a true dialogue of naturalness.
This term was not chosen arbitrarily. Because this concert poem to be played in a single breath was performed by the very young Andrei Ioniță in a manner that is rare nowadays: impressively natural, with no emphasis, no exaggeration, a very deep performance, embracing emotion, a high quality emotion that takes you to the end purpose of romantic music: gaining access to the universal experiences that drive us in our personal endeavours.
It is a unique gift of Ioniță, no matter what he performs, one that could be seen in the two encores he gave. He approaches each work with solemnity, and the personal filter he applies contains no “fashionable” artifice. He is submitted to the score and the composer, and he reaches that high region where the science of composition meets trance. Without exaggerating, I see him following in the footsteps of the great classics of world-class performance: Rostropovich, Richter, particularly Oistrakh, precisely thanks to this concern of his with music above all, and less so with the “fashionable” new manners of performing that are so popular and often artificial.
Andrei Ioniță seems to have understood that ultimate originality can be obtained naturally if you approach the music directly, if you are patient with the meanings, letting them reveal themselves gradually, as you gain experience not just in concerts, but also in life.
Of course his sound is impeccable, his phrasing is not risk-averse, but positively bold, and perhaps in the future it will be even bolder in Bach, of course his instrument helps him tackle all registers equally, and his technique is exceptional. But the courage of feeling the natural and of helping us all shed a tear with him is what makes him different in this age of mad technology and conceptualism, which – and it is not necessarily a bad thing – governs every dimension of the arts. Andrei Ioniță plays to let us know that emotion is the most complex concept.
It is in this context of naturalness that Scheherazade occurred, the work that concluded the two evenings with Gergiev and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. It is a music which most music lovers await dearly, which stimulates the interest of composition students and conductors – the great lesson about the orchestra – and in which Gergiev was a brilliant, determined, yet refined, gentle and subtle storyteller.
With the colourful violin solos – from a surprising deciso at the beginning to ever more delicate touches, the orchestra units well valorised by the conductor’s gestures and an impeccable construction, we bid farewell to this overwhelming ensemble, in one of the memorable moments of this edition of the Festival, and we hope to hear them again soon in Romania.
Translation provided by Biroul de Traduceri Champollion