On his return in Romania in 1898, Enescu was struck by the “gypsy style” violinists, heard in hotels, restaurants, clubs and cafes in Bucharest. Some of the most admired of these musicians ca,e from the Dinicu Family; these players were of high technical standard and Enescu conceived the idea of casting symphonic form of folk theme played and imitating the sound of ethnic instruments.
The first Romanian Rhapsody begins with an improvisatory section in which the main theme is announced by solo wind before being taken up by the orchestra, recreating the sound of cobza – a plucked folk instrument. Enescu then sets out before us a succession of festive scenes from rural life, superbly orchestrated, culminating in the lark (ciocârlia): a famous device in popular Romanian string playing in which the sound of birds is imitated.
If the First Rhapsody is based on dance music, the Second is founded on songs which the folk element more fully developed than in the former. At first we hear an extended and noble theme, Phrygian in modal inflexions, on full orchestra, Eastern characteristics follow the embroder with much richness the orchestral tapestry. A dance episode is given to a string quartet, as a gipsy players suddenly emerge from the orchestra to the front of the stage, execute their piece and return to their places before a gentle clarinet solo ends the Rhapsody.
The first Romanian Rhapsody composed at 19 years (together with a second one, both bearing the opus number 11) gained a worldwide fame for its lovely folk tunes (in fact, all Enescu’s works are imbued with such folk aromas) and vivid Romanian rhythms, becoming definitely the best known of all his compositions. Here it is performed with an infectious empathy by the Romanian conductor Horia Andreescu (former pupil of Celibidache and Karajan) along with his musicians from “George Enescu” Philharmonic Orchestra.