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Joseph JONGEN (1873 – 1953)
String Quartet No.1 in C minor Op.3 (1894) [37:26]
String Quartet No.2 in A major Op.50 (1916) [31:22]
Quatuor Gong (Hanxiang Gong, Yinlai Chen, violins; Jean-Christophe Michallek, viola; Martin Hesselbein, cello)
rec. Chapelle de Bolland, Belgium, 27-30 May 2002
PAVANE ADW7483 [69:24]

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Joseph JONGEN (1873 – 1953)
String Quartet No.3 in D major Op.67 (1921) [41:10]
Deux Sérénades Op.61 (1918) [20:00]
Quatuor Gong
rec. Chapelle de Bolland, Belgium, 14-17 August 2007
PAVANE ADW7524 [61:15]
Experience Classicsonline

The first volume was released to coincide with the various celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Jongen’s death. The second was released in January this year.
 
Jongen’s String Quartet No.1 in C minor Op.3 is dedicated to Théodore Radoux with whom Jongen studied. This early substantial work is in four movements in which the composer still used cyclic procedures inherited from Franck. The first movement opens with a slow introduction leading into the main part of the movement Allegro risoluto, the whole evidently being conceived as a large-scale sonata form. The second movement is a long slow meditation with a more animated central section. As will be seen later in this review, Jongen quite often relied on ABA structures in many of his movements. The third movement is a nervous Scherzo whereas the finale combines new material with restatements from the second movement. It’s all done in a typically cyclic manner inherited from Franck and d’Indy as well as some of their followers. Even later in his long composing career, Jongen reverted time and again to similar cyclical devices. The First String Quartet is an ambitious work by a composer still in his early twenties. Nevertheless he already displays formal mastery and assurance in handling sometimes over-abundant thematic material. While indebted to Franck and d’Indy; brief glimpses of Jongen’s own voice show from time to time in this imposing work.
 
At the outbreak of World War I, Jongen left Belgium with his family and settled in England where he remained very prolific while being also active as a performer. He founded the Belgian Piano Quartet and toured with them. Dedicated to Théo Ysaÿe, the celebrated violinist’s youngest brother, the String Quartet No.2 in A major Op.50 was composed in Bournemouth and first performed in London. It is a considerably more mature work in which Jongen’s personal voice is now evident throughout. Though still displaying the odd ‘Franckian’ touch, the music’s scope has now broadened to incorporate Impressionist touches redolent of, say, Fauré, Debussy and Ravel. This is blended effortlessly with elegant and clear melodic and thematic material. The music may also at times bring Frank Bridge’s early string quartets to mind, but this must be purely coincidental. The Quartet is laid out in the traditional fast-slow-fast pattern. The finale is one of those rustic dances - albeit with slower sections - often favoured by Jongen to round-off his works.
 
Jongen composed his Deux Sérénades pour quatuor à cordes Op.61 when still in England and dedicated this short diptych to the landlords of the apartment he hired in London. The fairly straightforward Sérénade tendre perfectly lives up to its title with its warmly lyrical main theme singing freely over strumming accompaniment. The Sérénade dramatique is more lyrical and impassioned than really dramatic. This short diptych is one of the many examples of Jongen’s almost inexhaustible melodic fund - melodies flow effortlessly from the composer’s pen. This, by the way, is a typical characteristic of Jongen’s music-making.
 
Dedicated to Florent Schmitt, the String Quartet No.3 in D major Op.67 is on a grander scale still than the First String Quartet. Its four movements play for almost three quarters of an hour; but, by the time it was composed, Jongen was in full command of his craft. This long work never rambles such is the quality of the thematic material and the formal assurance with which the composer handles it from first to last. The first movement is by far the most developed with a lot of thematic interplay. The second movement is a vivacious Scherzo with several unusual instrumental touches. As often as not in this composer’s music, the slow movement is another beautiful and richly melodic statement. This substantial work is rounded-off with a mostly light-footed Rondo. The Third String Quartet is a most appealing work in spite of its length and unquestionably one of Jongen’s masterpieces.
 
The Quatuor Gong plays wonderfully throughout in committed readings of these beautiful but long neglected works. The recording is excellent throughout yet with some slight reverberation. The Quatuor Gong and Pavane definitely deserve full marks for this superb enterprise. My sole regret, though, is that it was not possible to include the Deux Esquisses Op.97 and Prélude et Chaconne Op.101 for completeness’ sake. Anyway, these discs are a most worthy and welcome addition to Jongen’s discography.
 
Hubert Culot
 

 


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