Irène Duval & Ensemble 360

Crucible Playhouse, Sheffield
Friday 24 May 2024, 1.00pm

£10 UC, DLA or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students

Book Tickets

ENESCU Violin Sonata No.2 (24′)
FAURÉ Violin Concerto (12’)
FAURÉ String Quartet (23′) 

No interval 

Violinist Irène Duval, a prize-winner at the 2021 Young Classical Artists Trust International Auditions, opens this concert with a monumental sonata written by Fauré’s violin virtuoso pupil, George Enescu. Irène joins Ensemble 360 for Fauré’s only string quartet, an ethereal piece that derives its principal melody from Fauré’s early Violin Concerto. It was his final work and is a fitting swan-song that resolves into an ultimately life-affirming finale. 

Note from Guest Curator, Steven Isserlis 

“Enescu’s impassioned Violin Sonata No.2 reveals the strong influence of his revered teacher Fauré. Like his beloved Schumann, Fauré used a theme from his Violin Concerto in his final work, his only string quartet. Unlike Schumann, however, Fauré did so deliberately; having discarded the Violin Concerto, he must have been loath to waste such a beautiful melody. It provides a poignantly human response to the chant-like opening of a work that gently, lovingly bids us farewell. Fauré’s work here is done, he seems to tell us; and it is time for him to pass on to the better world he has so often allowed us to experience through his music.” 

Part of Sheffield Chamber Music Festival 2024. 

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ENESCU George, Violin Sonata No.2 Op.6

Assez mouvementé 

Born in Romania, George Enescu was a child prodigy and he entered the Vienna Conservatory at the age of seven. His teachers there included Joseph Hellmesberger and Robert Fuchs, and in 1891 Enescu was introduced to Brahms. After graduating in Vienna at the age of twelve, Enescu moved to Paris where he studied with Fauré and André Gedalge – both of whom also taught Ravel. Enescu’s Violin Sonata No. 2 was written in April 1899 when he was 17 years old – and still a student. Its premiere was given in Paris on 22 February 1900 by Jacques Thibaud with the composer at the piano, and the sonata was dedicated to Thibaud and his pianist brother, Joseph. Enescu himself recalled that the opening theme first came into his head during a walk when he was 14: ‘I carried it inside me for three years; then, at the age of seventeen, I wrote my Second Violin Sonata in the space of a fortnight.’ As Enescu’s biographer Noel Malcolm has noted, the work has ‘an extraordinary unity, mainly because of the way it is pervaded by the long, mysterious … theme which opens the first movement.’ This theme is developed and transformed throughout the Sonata, giving the whole work a powerful coherence. The musical language has occasional echoes of Fauré, but even in this early work, Enescu was a highly original creative voice, even incorporating elements of the modes and harmonies of his native Romanian folk music in the slow movement.  


© Nigel Simeone

FAURÉ Gabriel, Violin Concerto

Fauré worked on a violin concerto in 1878–9, but the project was destined to remain unfinished. Though the first two movements were performed by the violinist Ovide Musin and the Colonne Orchestra on 12 April 1880, the finale was never written. The slow movement of the concerto was destroyed, but was probably reworked as the Andante for violin and piano Op.75. The first movement – lyrical and expansive – survived complete, and turned out to be a surprisingly fruitful source for the composer: Fauré’s biographer Robert Orledge noted that its two main themes ‘proved far better suited to the more intimate medium of the String Quartet’ when they were reused ‘in the light of a lifetime’s experience’ in his last work, written in 1923–4. 


© Nigel Simeone

FAURÉ Gabriel, String Quartet

Allegro moderato 

Fauré’s String Quartet was his last composition, completed in 1924 shortly before his death. It was also his first chamber work without piano. For the first movement he drew on ideas composed 45 years earlier for his Violin Concerto, but now reworked in a much more compact and tightly organised sonata form structure. The Andante was written first, in September 1923 at Annecy. The opening Allegro moderato was completed in Paris and the third movement (combining elements of scherzo and finale) was finished in 1924, back in Annecy. The result is a work of great expressive power, with, as the British musicologist Robert Orledge has noted, ‘the craftsmanship being so consummate that we need to listen hard even to notice the joins or the thematic counterpoint that gives the Quartet its virile strength.’ On 12 September 1924, Fauré wrote to his wife from Annecy announcing that ‘yesterday evening I finished the finale. So that’s the quartet finished’. A month later, weakened by a bout of pneumonia, Fauré returned to Paris where he died peacefully early in the morning of 4 November. Two days later, the composer Albert Roussel wrote a moving tribute in the magazine Comoedia: Fauré ‘occupied a place apart in the history of music and, without noise or fuss or meaningless gesture, he pointed the way towards marvellous horizons overflowing with freshness and light.’ 


© Nigel Simeone, 2024 

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