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Frits CELIS (b. 1929)
Sonata for Cello and Piano Op.6 (1962/3) [23:38]
Sonata for Solo Cello Op.71 (2002) [23:12]
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Sonata for Cello and Piano Op.27 (1910/1) [21:57]
Jan Sciffer (cello); Hans Ryckelynck (piano)
rec. Academiezaal, Sint-Truiden, Belgium, 19-21 December 2008
PHAEDRA 92060 [68:50]
Experience Classicsonline

Eighty this year, Frits Celis is a most distinguished and versatile musician who played an important on the Belgian – and particularly Flemish – musical scene. Trained as a harpist, he also studied composition and conducting at home and abroad since he furthered his musical studies in Salzburg and Köln. He conducted at La Monnaie in Brussels and then at the Flemish Opera in Antwerp. He also taught at the Antwerp Conservatory, but composing remained a lifelong preoccupation although his output – while far from negligible – remained limited until his retirement. From then on his output grew considerably with some eighty opus numbers at the time of writing. The only genre left untouched is opera. His early works – from Muziek voor strijkers Op.1 (1951) up to the Cello Sonata Op.6 – may be considered as belonging to some broad 20th century mainstream. He then went through a short, somewhat more experimental period in which he toyed with 12-tone writing without ever adhering to strict serialism. His mature output, though often tightly worked-out, is imbued with some real, though at times austere lyricism and is stylistically freer.

The Cello Sonata Op.6 is laid-out in three movements along the fairly traditional fast-slow-fast pattern. The first movement, too, is fairly traditional in alternating a vigorous, impassioned first subject and a more lyrical one. The emotional weight of the whole work, however, lies in the beautifully lyrical second movement. The sonata is rounded-off with a lively Allegro with another slower, more lyrical central section.

The Sonata for Solo Cello Op.71, dedicated to Jan Sciffer, is in a quite different league than the Cello Sonata Op.6 and clearly demonstrates Celis’ stylistic progress over the intervening years. The musical idiom is freer and possesses an improvisatory character absent in the earlier work, but this does not mean that the composer has relinquished the “good old values” in favour of some sort of “play-as-you-please”. He still tightly controls the material and its development, even if allowing some freedom to the player. As a number of composers dear to my heart, Celis manages to find new things to say within a fairly traditional framework, without ever being reactionary. The music is rather demanding but its virtuosity is never at the expense of expression, be it in its more forceful moments such as the strongly declamatory opening or in its more relaxed episodes. This imposing and beautiful work should become part of any cellist’s repertoire, were it only as an alternative to Kodaly’s Sonata for Solo Cello.

Though probably best known for his numerous organ works, Louis Vierne also composed symphonic works and chamber music. His Cello Sonata Op.27, dedicated to Pablo Casals, is a near-contemporary of his Violin Sonata Op.23 dedicated to Eugène Ysaye. Vierne belonged to the youngest generation of pupils of Franck, and his music then was still indebted to that of the “Pater Seraphicus” without being a blunt imitation of the older composer’s model. The music is fairly romantic in feeling and abounds with truly beautiful themes, but the whole is never overdone. Vierne’s Cello Sonata is a very fine work that deserves to be heard more often.

All three works are superbly played by one of Flanders’ finest cellists, wholeheartedly partnered by Hans Ryckelynck whose recording of some of Jongen’s and Lonque’s piano music I reviewed here some time ago (Phaedra 92049).

Phaedra have already recorded a number of Frits Celis’ works. Incidentally one of their first releases (Phaedra 92003) is entirely devoted to orchestral works of his. This is now available through download only. Although I would have preferred a whole disc with chamber music by Frits Celis – I suppose that the choice of Vierne’s Cello Sonata was Celis’ own – this release is a most welcome, superbly produced and well deserved eightieth birthday tribute to a most distinguished composer.

Hubert Culot



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