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My first thought was how do they do it? Ireland has a bigger economy than Romania and a smaller population, though obviously the higher cost of living here has an impact on what money can purchase. The festival’s budget is 35 million Romanian Lei or €7.84 million, around half of which is government supplied, the rest coming from ticket sales and sponsorship. I guess it’s all a matter of where culture comes in the list of national priorities.
I spent three days at the festival, and got to events at the National Opera and the main concert halls. My seat for Otello was very near the front and at a side wall. But it turned out well. It felt as if I were in some kind of sound-trap, with everything – voices, individual and choral, and the orchestra too – thrillingly immediate, every last glow of tone and wisp of resonance sounding as if they had been shaped specially for me. The leads, Marius Vlad Budoiu as Otello and Nicoleta Ardelean as Desdemona, were both strong, and Kery-Lynn Wilson conducted with real thrust. Vera Nemirova’s production busied itself with too many points from too many directions, as if showing off how many extra references could be laid one on top of the other.
A mammoth cantata
Schoenberg’s mammoth late-romantic cantata Gurrelieder was given in the vast space of the Sala Palatului, a 1960 concert hall cum conference centre with a capacity of more than 4,000. The George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra under Bertrand de Billy lacked something in luxuriance and warmth, but the main soloists, soprano Violeta Urmana and tenor Nikolai Schukoff, were superb, Schukoff’s commanding Heldentenor manner fielding all the music’s fearsome demands with impressive ease.
It would be rather remiss to attend an Enescu festival and not hear any of Enescu’s works. My time in Bucharest didn’t coincide with any of this year’s large-scale Enescu offerings, but I did hear his Second Piano Quartet played by the Tammuz Quartet in the Ataneul Român, a gorgeously ornate, late 19th-century concert hall, with a circular design by the French architect Albert Galleron and one of the most visually appealing foyers I’ve ever come across.
The Tammuz’s playing of Enescu was as understated as you could imagine, a four-way conversation in which you wanted to follow every part but were regularly being distracted by one of the other ones.
There was a contemporary music strand over the weekend, too, with the standout performances coming from the Minguet Quartet (in the small hall of the Sala Palatului) with soprano Sarah Maria Sun joining the Minguets to produce spectacular, white high notes in Peter Ruzicka’s Erinnerung und vergessen, and the Irish Chamber Orchestra’s ubiquitous artistic partner, clarinettist Jörg Widmann, joining them for the 21st-century romanticism of Wolfgang Rihm’s 4 Studien zu einem Klarinettenquintett.
The festival continues until September 28th. Check it out at festivalenescu.ro/en