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Joseph JONGEN (1873 – 1953)
Impressions d’Ardennes Op.44 (1913)
Cello Concerto in D Op.18 (1900)a
Fantaisie sur deux Noëls populaires wallons Op.24 (1902)
Marie Hallynck (cello)a; Orchestre National de Belgique; Roman Kofman
Recorded: Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, July 2002
CYPRÈS CYP 1634 [65:14]

Some of Jongen’s early works, such as his cantata Comala Op.11 (1897) which earned him the Rome Prize, his String Quartet No.1 Op.3 (1892) and the Cello Concerto Op.18, are ambitious, large-scale compositions. In them the young composer flexes his muscles and displays his compositional skills, though there is comparatively little pointing towards his mature style. These works, though overtly influenced by Franck, Wagner or d’Indy, nevertheless betray some remarkable formal mastery and a distinctive expressive palette. Jongen’s substantial Cello Concerto in D Op.18 is the culmination of his prentice composing years, a summation of his stylistic leanings as well as a pointer towards new developments. The first movement is fairly traditional in that it consists of a slow, majestic introduction leading into a moderately fast section. The slow movement, however, already shows a typical Jongen hallmark, in that it has a lively, dancing middle section of lighter nature (shades of Sibelius here). This had already been briefly hinted at in the slow movement of the First String Quartet. The Finale again opens with a slow introduction leading into an animated, eventful Rondo.

Jongen’s Cello Concerto, in spite of the many passing influences (Dvořák’s wonderful Cello Concerto may have been Jongen’s model in many respects), may be counted as one of his early mature works written before he came under Debussy’s spell; an enchantment that would have a lasting influence on his late music. This may already have been felt in the delightful Fantaisie sur deux Noëls populaires wallons Op.24 which has long been a favourite. The music has greater freedom and handles two well-known Walloon Christmas carols with much imagination, while retaining the simplicity of the tunes. This lovely work never outstays its welcome. No great masterpiece, maybe, but a most attractive and engaging work in its own right that – at long last – is back in the catalogue.

The slightly later Impressions d’Ardennes Op.44 is fully characteristic of Jongen’s mature music with its blend of tradition inherited from d’Indy, colourful Impressionism learned from Debussy and some earthly folk-like freshness. In some respects, the music brings early Vaughan Williams to mind (e.g. In the Fen Country or Norfolk Rhapsody No.1 though Jongen does not quote any folk-song). A mysterious, dreamy introduction evoking the vast plateaux of the Fagnes leads into a jolly peasant dance followed by a tranquil, somewhat mystical final section. Impressions d’Ardennes is one of his best-known works and was recorded many years ago during the LP era, but has been shamefully neglected for too many long years. This excellent new recording is again most welcome.

Marie Hallynck, one of Belgium’s most brilliant young soloists, gives a loving, carefully prepared and fully assured reading of the Cello Concerto. She gets fine support from the Orchestre National de Belgique who also make a good cause for the orchestral works. Jongen’s music has been neglected for too long, and the fiftieth anniversary of his death will, I hope, bring forth many new recordings of his music. Cyprès have already released a disc of chamber music, but recordings of two string quartets and of orchestral songs will be forthcoming. More is to be expected from other labels. Good news, indeed. In any case, the present release should appeal to all those who admire his masterly Symphonie Concertante but keep asking "What else?".

Hubert Culot


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