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August ENNA (1859-1939)
Overture Cleopatra (1893) [8:38]
Violin Concerto in D major (1897) [25:54]*
Symphonic Fantasy (1930-31) [28:42]
Kathrin Rabus (violin)*
NDR Radiophilharmonie/Hermann Bäumer
rec. 14-18 February 2011, Grosser Sendesaal, Funkhaus NDR, Hannover.
CPO 777 674-2 [63:40]

Fans of Danish music are less likely to have come across the name August Enna than his contemporary Carl Nielsen, but the CPO label are doing us all a service by drawing attention to one of this country’s very fine but sadly neglected musical voices. Enna’s influences included Wagner, and this can strongly be heard in the Overture from his opera Cleopatra. Enna is probably best remembered for his operas, and if this powerful chunk of music is anything to go by then a revival of this work would seem to be overdue.

The Violin Concerto in D major is much more open in character, and while some gorgeous sonorities are generated the soloist is left plenty of room for colour and subtlety in spinning their amicable musical narrative. Jens Cornelius’s booklet notes indicate that the concerto “stands with one foot in Nordic music and the other in Italian opera”, which sums up its character very well indeed. The expansive vestures of the outer movements have a distinctive outdoor feel, while the central Andante opens with a quote from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci, which Cornelius posits may be Enna’s “self-portrait … the eternal entertainer, unveiling what actually lies behind his mask.” However we interpret it, this is excellent music which manages both to maintain tradition in terms of violin concertos, while communicating plenty of personal expression though numerous distinctive passages, if not that one ‘big tune’ which might have given the work a higher profile in our times.

The Symphonic Fantasy is one of relatively few orchestral works from this composer. There are some mysteries surrounding its content and conception, but as it stands the work has plenty going for it, with remarkably effective orchestration and truckloads of rich harmonies and gorgeous melody. Enna continued composing in a romantic idiom into this his last orchestral piece, and if listening ‘blind’ I doubt many would label it as from the early 1930s. There are flecks of Tchaikovsky and moments Wagnerian, but this still remains glorious concert music which rises well above accusations of reactionary weakness.

I’m glad to be able to agree with Rob Barnett (see review) that August Enna is a name well worth exploring. It’s a shame that, like Rued Langgaard, he came to resent the success and fame achieved by Carl Nielsen, but with such fine and clearly committed performances as these at least now we can view Enna’s work objectively, and appreciate it for its honest and highly attractive musical vision.

Dominy Clements

Previous review: Rob Barnett