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Ernest Van Der EYKEN (b. 1913)
In Flanders' Fields Vol. 47
String Quartet No.2 (1943) [1828]
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 de Maeyer
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 recital.
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 balance.
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.
Gary Higginson

see also review by Hubert Culot

Reviews of other releases in this series
Vol. 29 (92029) Works for oboe & orchestra by de Boeck, Legley, Celis, Verschraegen, Leduc & Kersters
Vol. 30 (92030) Works for cello & piano by Jongen
Vol. 31 (92031) Orchestral works by Meulemans
Vol. 38 (92038) Works for chamber orchestra by Swerts, Gilson, Westerlinck, Meulemans, Celis & Schroeyens
Vol. 41 (92041) Piano trios by Jongen
Vol. 49 (92049) Piano music by Jongen





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