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Ernest Van Der
EYKEN (b. 1913) In Flanders' Fields Vol. 47 String Quartet No.2 (1943)  Twee melodieen (1942) [8.46] Trio per flauto, violino e viola (1989) [20.38] Sonatine voor Sofie (1983) [6.36] Concerto per otto strumenti a fiato (1999) [15.46]
Mate Szucs (viola);
Jozef de Boenhouwer (piano); Denis Pietre Gustin (flute); Andre
Siwi (violin); Therese Marie Gilissen
(viola); Naove Musiche String Quartet; Wind Ensemble Bellerophon/Jan
rec. Studio The Right Place Brussels, January 2006 (String
Quartet No.2; Twee Melodieen; Sonatine); Royal Music Conservatory
Brussels, January 1999 (Trio); live, Festival of Flanders,
Mechelen, October 2000 (Concerto) PHAEDRA 92047 [70.14]
I suppose that
it’s a sign of the times: composers are definitely getting
older. Van der Eyken is now a lively 94 and the Concerto recorded
here was written when he was an athletic 86 year old. I notice
also that this disc marks volume 47 - no less - of a series
recorded by Phaedra over the past decade entitled ‘In Flanders’ Fields’.
If, like me, you have missed out on this incredibly extensive
series of discs of rarely heard music, mostly of the last century,
who hail from Belgium and Holland, you will be glad to know
that there is a complete listing in the back of the booklet.
Intriguing reading it makes. For example Volume 18 consists
of four orchestral works of Van der Eyken and Volume 5 consists
of songs by one of his teachers August de Boeck (d.1937).
Let’s spin through
these five works and try to let you know what to expect. The
disc opens with the striking, four movement, Second String
Quartet written during the darkest days of the Second World
War. Particularly in the longish first movement I was reminded
of Alban Berg, say the Quartet Op. 3. There is a toughness
to the counterpoint but also, and this is significant for all
of the works here, an emphasis on melodic line and counterpoint.
It is concise and challenging. For my taste the recording is
too bright and I turned the treble right down on second hearing.
Next up ‘Twee
melodieen’ scored for viola and piano in a language consistent
with the quartet having been written just two years earlier.
This is an astringent work but also curiously melodic and
it casts its spell successfully. Van der Eyken, as well as
being a prolific composer was/is also a viola player - as
well as teacher and conductor. It shows in the way he utilizes
the full instrument and exploits its unusual corners. This
is a really useful repertoire piece for violists and at only
nine minutes duration a useful length to form a part of a
The programme notes
by Jask van Holen, although disappointingly brief, do emphasise
Van der Eyken’s use of and interest in melody. This is especially
noticeable in the short ‘Sonatine voor Sofie’ which
is almost neo-classical and quite different from the other
works here. Although in three movements they are played as
one and have attractive, interconnected material. Like the
whole CD, the performance of this work seems to be absolutely
ideal. It appears that the composer was present for quite a
number of these recordings.
The Trio is
a studio recording but it has great clarity and presence. It
is a divertimento, again perhaps classical in inspiration,
in three movements with a central slow movement which for me
is the most moving track on the CD. The outer movements are
not atonal but roam around freely within a wide-ranging set
of tonal parameters.
I did not and have
not yet taken to the 1999 Concerto. It is somewhat acerbic
and is the only piece on the disc in which I detect an element
of note-spinning in its free-ranging tonality. You could be
forgiven whilst listening to this piece for thinking that you
have stepped back into the world of Hindemith, a composer,
according to the liner-notes who much influenced Van der Eyken.
Nevertheless the work throws up some interesting instrumental
combinations and, certainly at its opening, creates a fascinating
and slightly forbidding atmosphere, before a wistful flute
cadenza leads into a somewhat mechanistic Allegro. This is
fine playing with considerable attention to detail and natural
To sum up, this
is well crafted music and quite typical of its period. To my
way of thinking the fact that it is so little known may, partially
at least, be down to its lack of a strong personality and profile
and of real emotional depth. But I have found living with this
music an attractive proposition. Only at moments in the Concerto
did it allow my mind to drift aimlessly. So if you are feeling
adventurous you could do worse than try this disc out.
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