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Frederic DEVREESE Gemini: Orchestral & Piano Works BRTN Philharmonic Orchestra - Brussels, various conductors including the composer Daniel Blumenthal - piano (and Robert Groslot on Gemini: suite for two pianos) CYPRES CYP1619 [2CDs: disc one - orchestral works: 58:10 / disc two - piano works: 56:19]

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In an episode of the sitcom 'Hippies' one character submitted a review of a new Pink Floyd album to an underground magazine. A 'radical' and somewhat challenging review, it took the form of a child's drawing, complete with a house, stick people and smiling sun. Here the cover, by David Devreese, presumably the composer's son, is in a similar vein; a simple drawing of a sailing boat beneath a smiling sun. Whether this is a positive sign or not is difficult to say, but this 2 CD anthology of music by Belgian composer Frederick Devreese is certainly worth the highest commendation.

In keeping with the title, everything here is twinned. There are two discs, each just under an hour long, the first featuring four orchestral works, the second, four works for piano. Gemini appears on both discs, first as a 'suite for double orchestra', then as a 'suite for two pianos'. There is one mystery: a sticker on the jewel-case bears the legend 'First World Recording', but it is not at all clear whether this refers to certain pieces, or all of them. Printed on the front cover of the booklet is a Radio 3 logo. This is nothing to do with the BBC, but a Belgian classical station of the same name.

When I first pressed play I had something of a shock. Never having heard Devreese before, I had built-up the expectation that this would be 'difficult' music. The opening Overture for Large Orchestra begins with a noble fanfare, leading to playful and eminently melodic music and a regal finale. It reminds me nothing so much as of Ron Goodwin, perhaps the delightful light music of his Drake 400 suite, for, in keeping with the boat on the cover, there is a definite flavour of salt spray. The piece was actually written for King Boudewijn's 25th anniversary party, and the lavishly triumphant climax would not sound out of place in a Hollywood epic. Perhaps this is not surprising, given the royal occasion, and the fact that Devreese has written the music for over 30 films.

The Piano Concerto No.1 is the earliest work here, dating from 1949, and written when the composer was only 20. This is an ambitious and most entertaining work, full of tension and crackling with energy, influences fizzling round the edges. Here is the epic romanticism of Rachmaninov fused with the delicious orchestral jazz of George Gershwin, all delivered with lots of showy fireworks and virtuoso dazzle, yet having enough personality of its own to be thoroughly deserving of attention.

The Valse Sacrée represents the composer's more recent style, offering a lovely flowing melody which leads into the main waltz tune, swirling to a dark and delirious sudden ending. The booklet notes suggest this piece is a synthesis of Devreese's film music style and his dance writing, and I would add that it is not going too far to discern the delirious ghosts of Ravel's La Valse in this incarnadine music. It is, incidentally, the one piece in this collection to be conducted by the composer.

Gemini, of course, must have two incarnations. The suites started out as ballet music. Gemini: Suite for Double Orchestra contains 8 movements and here lasts 23 minutes. The opening has a dream-like atmosphere with chiming bells which call to mind Hovhaness's Symphony No.50 - Mount St. Helen's, before exploding into muscular dance music which encapsulates the jazzy drive of the Big City, and even goes on to have parallels with Dimitri Tiomkin's score for The Thing (From Another World) and Jerry Goldsmith's Alien. Here is music, big, confident, apologising to no one for eclectically fusing the concert hall, jazz orchestra and film score into one vibrant joyously open-hearted celebration. This is exciting, thrilling, exhilarating music packed with larger than life personality. It demands attention.

Gemini: Suite for Two Pianos, in 9 movements lasting 26 minutes, is rather more detached from the original score than is the orchestral suite. While the orchestral version is a colourfully orchestrated battleground, here the two pianists swap roles, alternating lead and accompanying roles, or else mirror one another in various playful ways. The suite begins with bold pulsating, cascading figures, like Michael Nyman on steroids, before taking off in all sorts of exciting an sometimes startling directions.

Lullaby for Jesse is exactly that, while Black and White has the right hand playing the white keys and the left the black. The individual pieces are graded for difficulty, the piece originally having an educational role. Masquerade for piano is a virtuoso jazz-inflected work derived from another ballet score. Percussive, dynamic and explosive, it brings the concert to a thoroughly entertaining conclusion.

The Overture and Piano Concerto were recorded live, but the sound quality is uniformly excellent. The playing is very fine, with Daniel Blumenthal delivering some astonishing musicianship in the more demanding music, elsewhere being playful, dramatic, witty or tender with great aplomb. This is not shy music, and requires a confident musician to bring it to life. In Daniel Blumenthal, Frederick Devreese is fortunate to have found a personality sufficient to reflect his own musical image to perfection.


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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