> GOEYVAERTS Improperia etc. MDC7829-30 [HC]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Karel GOEYVAERTS (1923 – 1993)
Bélise en son jardin (1972)a
Improperia (1959)a
Mon doux pilote s’endort aussi (1975)b
Erst das Gesicht, dann die Hände, und zuletzt erst das Haar (1975)c
Avontuur (1985)d
Zomerspelen (1961)e
Pour que les fruits mûrissent cet été (1976)f
Vilnius Municipal Choir "Jauna Muzika"a; Flemish Radio Choirb; Champ d’Actionc; Prometheus Ensemble & Champ d’Actiond; BRT Symphonic Orchestrae; Florilegium Musicum de Parisf; Jan Michiels (piano)d; Koen Kesselsac; Johan Duijckb; Peter Rundeld; Gianpiero Tavernae
Recorded : Vilnius Recording Studio, September 1999a; Jesuits’Chapel, Heverlee, October 1998b; deSingel, Antwerp, December 1998c; Luna Theatre, Brussels, October 1996d; Studio 4, BRT, Brussels, October 1975e; VRT Studios, January 1976f
MEGADISC MDC 7829/30 [36:02 + 60:15]

Before reviewing the present release spanning some twenty five years of Goeyvaerts’ composing life, it may be useful to retrace, albeit briefly, his early musical progress up to the period when the pieces recorded here were written.

Though he had completed a number of pieces before 1950, Goeyvaerts composed his first substantial works during his stay in Paris when he studied with Milhaud and Messiaen. Some of these, which earned him his first successes, include his First Violin Concerto (1948) first performed by Marcel Debot, Muziek voor viool, altstem en piano (1948) on words by Shakespeare, Tre Lieder per sonare a venti-sei (1948/9) for 26 instruments including Ondes Martenot which he had studied with Maurice Martenot, the song cycle La flûte de jade (1949) and Elegische muziek (1950) for alto and orchestra presented for his diploma at the Paris Conservatoire. When leaving Paris, Goeyvaerts started rethinking his music aiming at formal rigour, purity of sound and complex organisation. The first product of what may be referred to as his "radical" period is the complex, serially structured and demanding Nr.1 (1951) for two pianos which became a key work of modern music which impressed Stockhausen a great deal. This was followed by two works for ensemble and three electronic pieces. In 1957 he completed his orchestral work Diafonie with which he nevertheless was dissatisfied to the point of banning any performance. At that time Goeyvaerts went through a severe personal and aesthetic crisis. He stopped composing and began working for the Belgian airlines SABENA now defunct.

Improperia: Cantata for Good Friday, written in 1959, marked his return to composition. This is a curious, puzzling piece, quite unlike anything else he had written before. (In his autobiography Goeyvaerts admits that he cannot remember where or why he wrote this work.) When set against other Goeyvaerts pieces, it sounds almost reactionary though on closer acquaintance it shares a recurring characteristic of Goeyvaerts’ mature works, i.e. some sort of a ritual. It is a serious, dark-hued piece, scored for alto, double mixed chorus and six instruments (flute, oboe/cor anglais, clarinet/bass clarinet, viola, cello and percussion). A curious work by any count but a moving and beautiful one well worth reviving.

Zomerspelen (1961), for three instrumental groups, is Goeyvaerts’ most overtly impressionistic piece. It was written while the composer and his wife were on holiday on the Riviera. This colourful, almost lush music obviously reflects what were happy, carefree moments. The three sections (Végétations, Fruits-Vibrations, Chaque instant) play without breaks and are written in a comparatively straightforward musical idiom, although the third section originally contained some aleatoric passages which the composer fully wrote-out later.

Bélise dans un jardin (1972) belongs to a group of works in which Goeyvaerts experimented with words in an attempt to get as far beyond the semantic meaning of the words as possible. Thus, the text, if such there is, is completely de-constructed and its bits are used as sound objects. So, as a result, much use is made of different voice techniques (hissing, speaking, humming, singing, etc.) though this short, colourful work ends with a clear, consonant chord. The title refers to Garcia Lorca’s play Amor de Don Perlimplin con Belisa en su Jardin, set as operas by Wolfgang Fortner and Bruno Maderna, but the words used in this work also include multi-lingual excerpts from newspapers and from other sources.

...Erst das gesicht, dann die Hände, und zuletzt erst das Haar (1975) is scored for ten instruments, i.e. five winds (oboe, clarinet, trumpet and trombone) and string quintet (with double bass). The title is a quotation from a poem by Berthold Brecht (Ballade der ertrunkenen Mädchen) and the tripartite structure of the piece refers to the three parts of the body mentioned in the title: Gesicht alternates brief wind interjections and almost static string phrases, whereas Hände is more dynamic and das Haar almost desperately soft. This fine work clearly points to many later ensemble pieces, especially those derived or related to Goeyvaerts’ opus magnum Aquarius and in 1990 Goeyvaerts wrote another piece ...das Haar (also for ensemble) reflecting his experience after having been carried to hospital.

One of Goeyvaerts’ early works was a Poeme de Georges de Chirico (1944). Much later, in 1975, in Mon doux pilote s’endort aussi for unaccompanied mixed chorus, he set another poem by de Chirico. In this beautifully peaceful work, Goeyvaerts adopts some sort of Minimalism which will be the hallmark of many of his later pieces such as Pour que les fruits mûrissent cet été, also from 1975, written for Renaissance instruments and arranged later for small orchestra. As much of his late output, this hypnotic work is, in its own way, some sort of ritual.

Avontuur (1985) is a short concerto for piano and ten wind instruments in which rhythm is an important feature though not in the usual, forward-moving sense. Short rhythmic phrases or blocks are rather juxtaposed or opposed than developed, so that this piece is again some sort of ritual, much similar to what happened in the later Litanies composed between 1979 and 1982.

Karel Goeyvaerts was an influential and much respected composer whose musical progress was far from straight. His quest, usefully and excellently retraced in this double CD set, brought him to explore many different territories before reaching his ultimate vision fully realised in his last completed work, the ‘abstract opera’ Aquarius.

The performances are all very fine and well-recorded. The older recordings (Zomerspelen which, to the best of my knowledge, was never released on disc and Pour que les fruits...) have been cleanly transferred. This set is a must for all those who want to appreciate Goeyvaerts’ musical evolution over more than a quarter of a century. I believe that it is by far the best introduction to Karel Goeyvaerts’ music for the music is always gripping, thought-provoking and very varied. Warmly recommended.

Hubert Culot

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