> Luc van HOVE Orchestral works MDC7823-4 [HC]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Luc VAN HOVE (born 1957)
Carnaval op het Strand Op.17 (1985)
Piano Concerto Op.32 (1995)a
Symphony No.1 Op.25 (1989)
Triptiek Op.29 (1993)b
Stacked Time Op.26 (1990)c
Symphony No.2 Op.34 (1997)

Levente Kende (piano)a; Henk Swinnen (oboe)b; Tim Vets (electric guitar)c; Flemish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Etienne Siebens
Recorded: Philips Building, Leuven, January, February and July 2000
MEGADISC MDC 7823/4 [52:28 + 58:09]



Luc Van Hove, born in 1957, studied at the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp and attended master classes at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and at the University of Surrey in Guildford. His present output (about forty opus numbers so far) includes many chamber works and several substantial orchestral pieces (including three symphonies and three concertos).

The earliest work in this cross-selection of his orchestral output is the beautifully atmospheric Carnaval op het Strand Op.17 commissioned for the occasion of an important exhibition devoted to the Belgian painter James Ensor and completed in 1985. Appropriately enough, it has as its starting point the eponymous painting of Ensor (the Dutch title means Carnival on the Beach). The piece though is by no means programmatic but rather evokes the main features of Ensorís painting: on the one hand, the superficially monotonous, unchanging seascape and, on the other hand, the exuberantly clashing colours of the masks (a typical Ensor fingerprint). The "sea music" is actually present throughout as a continuum upon which colourful episodes are superimposed. The latter build-up towards an impressive climax, brutally interrupted. The ever-present, if unnoticed "sea music", albeit in a highly simplified form, slowly fades away. A beautifully evocative piece on all counts. (Incidentally, this is its second recording, the first [RADIO3 R3 99012] being part of a collection of Ensor-inspired works by Belgian composers.)

The Symphony No.1 Op.25, completed in 1989, is characterised by a greater emphasis on rhythm and rough energy, though the central section Mahler, paying overt homage to the Austrian composer, has its calmer, more lyrical moments such as its outer sections. However, the whole work leaves a strong impression of troubled turmoil though there is near the end of the third movement a short-lived attempt at a big tune that does not succeed to take flight and that is abruptly cut short by the impatient, angry coda.

Stacked Time Op.26 of 1990 for electric guitar and orchestra was commissioned by the organization Jeugd and Muziek (i.e. "Youth and Music") for its fiftieth anniversary. The commission insisted that the piece should bridge the gap between pop and classical music, hence the choice of a rather unusual solo instrument. In this piece, Van Hove consolidates many characteristics already present in some of his earlier works and this one is a further attempt to blend tonal and atonal elements into one musically satisfying whole. Again, rhythms feature prominently in this piece that has its share of irony but also some more relaxed moments such as the central movement Träumerei.

The oboe concerto Triptiek Op.29, composed in 1993, is a much more lyrical piece in which long melodic lines abound. The work has three movements, though the weight of the musical argument is reserved for the long central movement, the outer slow movements acting respectively as short prologue and epilogue. To my mind, this is one of Van Hoveís most beautiful and attractive pieces.

The Piano Concerto Op.32, completed in 1995, has a somewhat unusual layout. A short first movement A Dance Tune acts as a prelude to the longer, highly contrasted, narrative second movement A Story. (The title of this second movement says much as its content, i.e. a long ballad-like narration not unlike Frank Martinís Ballade pour piano et orchestre.) A Dance Tune begins somewhat hesitantly with the pianoís gentle musings supported by chamber-like instrumental forces whereas A Story calls for larger orchestral forces. This rather unusual piano concerto could, I believe, become as popular as the Martin work mentioned.

Admittedly composed under the shadows of the horrendous affairs that brutally shattered Belgium in 1996 (the Dutroux case), the Symphony No.2 Op.34, completed in 1997, is a quite different piece than its predecessor. It is cast in two movements of fairly equal length (Elegia and Quasi una fantasia con epilogo) and is much more elegiac in mood and emotionally more introvert. It is also overtly more melodic than the First Symphony.

Van Hoveís music is clearly of its time, though still rooted in some 20th Century mainstream symphonic writing, successfully blending tonal and atonal elements into a powerfully expressive and communicative idiom. These fine, superbly crafted pieces are well-served by committed readings though the sound level of the recording might be too high for some tastes, but this double-CD set provides for a quite comprehensive survey of Luc Van Hoveís powerfully gripping music.

Hubert Culot


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