it be said straightaway, this is a varied and most interesting
release, in that it includes some familiar stuff (Wagner’s Wesendonck
Lieder) as well as some less familiar works, although
Nystroem’s song cycle is rather better-known than de Boeck’s
songs, the real novelty here.
Wesendonck Lieder have become a classic of some
sort, and thus do not call for many comments. Suffice it to
say that they are quite beautiful and beautifully sung here
by Nina Stemme superbly partnered by Jozef de Beenhouwer.
beautiful song cycle Sånger vid havet is comparatively
well-known and has been regularly taken-up by sopranos or mezzo-sopranos.
I came to love this piece through an old recording by Aulikki
Rautawaara (on Swedish Society SCD 1039, possibly still available)
and, some time later, thanks to Rosemarie Lang’s recording (BIS
CD-530). These recordings are both of the orchestral version,
that – on the whole – may be more successful in conveying the
presence of the sea that has often been a source of inspiration
for Nystroem (just think of his third symphony Sinfonia
del Mare [1946/8] or of his symphonic poem Ishavet
[1924/5]); but the present recording of the voice-and-piano
version works remarkably well indeed. Listening to it again,
I was not surprised that this atmospheric, often impressionistic
song cycle has enjoyed (and still does) some popularity among
sopranos and audiences as well. Of course, Nina Stemme is on
her own territory here and sings beautifully throughout.
de Boeck and his near-contemporary Lodewijk Mortelmans may rightly
be considered as the founding fathers of 20th century
Flemish music. They were the first Flemish composers of status
who also opened Flemish music to new expressive worlds, mainly
Impressionism that informs much of their late music, although
both were and remained post-romantic composers at heart. De
Boeck’s splendid Symphony in G is reasonably well-known,
but other important facets of his sizeable and varied output
are still too little-known. He consistently composed songs and
vocal works throughout his career including several operas (e.g.
Winternachtsdroom available on Phaedra 92025).
His numerous songs either on Flemish poems or French words,
often exist either with piano accompaniment or with orchestra;
but they, too, are highly effective when heard with piano accompaniment
as is amply demonstrated by this recording of his seven songs
on French words by Jeanne Cuisinier. She wrote these poems when
she was twenty or so, and de Boeck set five of them when the
ink was hardly dry. De Boeck’s first five settings actually
date from 1911-1912, whereas two more settings were composed
in 1915. These are marvellous settings in the vein of Duparc,
Fauré or Chausson, with an occasional glance towards Debussy,
so no wonder that Ravel is reported to have appreciated some
Stemme was a name new to me; but, after receiving this release,
I realised that she has also recorded for Chandos and had taken
part in another Phaedra release, entirely devoted to Mortelmans,
this time (Phaedra 92033). I loved her warm voice that sounds
to me as more a mezzo-soprano voice than a soprano voice, and
I admired her dedication to the music. Moreover, her French
diction is really excellent. Again, she is superbly partnered
by Jozef de Beenhouwer, one of Belgium’s finest pianists and
most distinguished accompanists and chamber musicians. Yes,
I enjoyed this release enormously and recommend it wholeheartedly.