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Joseph JONGEN (1873 Ė 1953)
Complete Piano Works Ė Volume 1
Suite en forme de sonate Op.60 (1918)
Petite Suite Op.75 (1924)
Sonatine Op.88 (1929)
Deux Pièces Op.33 (1908)
Deux rondes wallonnes Op.40 (1912)
Crépuscule au Lac Ogwen Op.52 (1916)
Impromptu No.1 Op.87 (1928)
Impromptu No.2 Op.99 (1933)
Impromptu No.3 Op.126 No.1 (1943)
24 petits préludes Op.116 (1940/1)
Diane Andersen (piano)
Recorded: Recital Studio I, Liège, 2001 (CD 1) and Recital Studio II, Huy, 2002 (CD 2)
PAVANE ADW 7475/6 [70:29 + 76:56]


I have long been a frustrated admirer of Jongenís music. Although it has always been widely appreciated, it has been too rarely heard and recorded in the many long years after his death in 1953, of which 2003 marks the fiftieth anniversary. Now, at long last, it is slowly being given its due, at least as far as recordings are concerned. Performances in concert or recital are still a rare event, even in Belgium. Things, however, are now on the change and this rehabilitation should go on throughout 2003. At the very least Jongenís representation in the record catalogue will be greatly improved by the end of the year.

His considerable output includes many piano works, often substantial ones, of which a mere handful has remained in the repertoire. The present double-CD set, actually the first volume of Pavaneís recording of his complete piano music, is a real eye- and ear-opener. It has often been taken for granted that Jongen only composed short, impressionistic miniatures, such as the popular Two Pieces Op.33 or the neo-classical Sonatina Op.88. That he never composed a full-fledged piano sonata seems to have ruled him out as a serious composer of piano music. He nevertheless composed piano works throughout his long career. He was a gifted pianist who regularly played in concerts. During World War I, he settled in England and founded the Quatuor belge de Londres with, among others, Lionel Tertis. His first opus was a Concerto symphonique Op.1 for piano and orchestra composed in 1892 (he was nineteen!) and his last piano work Mazurka Op.126 bis dates from 1943. However he went on writing several pieces for piano duet until 1950. His pieces for piano duets and two pianos will also soon be available in brand new recordings to be released shortly by Pavane.

Jongenís natural lyricism is always counterbalanced by formal clarity, harmonic subtlety, refined elegance and some earthly directness inherited from his Ardennes origins. His musical gifts are expressed in healthy, straightforward dance rhythms redolent of folk song, although he rarely quotes folk material. His piano music perfectly sums up Jongenís musical make-up and ideals. These were, for him, articles of faith which he stuck to regardless of fashion. This may account for the neglect into which his music plummeted after his death. His music, as with that of Moeran or Ireland, may be eclectic in its various influences but, just as Moeranís or Irelandís, it is unmistakably personal.

The earliest work here is the reasonably popular diptych Two Pieces Op.33 of 1908 (Clair de lune and Soleil à midi) which made much for Jongenís reputation in the early 20th Century. In spite of whiffs from Debussy or Ravel, the music brilliantly demonstrates Jongenís idiomatic grasp of the instrumentís possibilities. The Deux rondes wallonnes Op.40 of 1912, which he also orchestrated as he did the Two Pieces Op.33 and the Petite Suite Op.75, have long been quite popular (probably more so in their orchestral guise). Both are based on Walloon folk songs and the second round rhapsodises on a well-known cramignon from Liège. The cramignon is a round dance related to the French carmagnole. Crépuscule au Lac Ogwen Op.52 was composed during his stay in England, as was his Danse lente Op.56 for flute and harp or piano. The Op. 52 work is an atmospheric miniature of the kind that Ireland or Moeran might have written. In fact, Jongenís piano music has much in common with that of these composers. Though he never composed a traditional "grand" piano sonata, Jongen nevertheless came near to it when he composed one of his first major piano works, the substantial Suite en forme de sonate Op.60. This is a real sonata in all but name, in spite of the somewhat misleading titles of the movements: Sonatine, La neige sur les Fagnes [a region in eastern Belgium where Jongen owned a summer cottage], Menuet dansé and Rondeau. The opening Sonatine pays homage to Scarlatti, whereas La neige sur les Fagnes is a beautifully atmospheric reverie, of which the dreamy mood is soon dispelled by the elegant Minuet. This major work ends with a lively Rondeau, a joyful, energetic peasant dance. As so many works with a similar title, Petite Suite Op.75, which also exists in orchestral guise, is music for children. Nevertheless this is quite demanding on the pianistís part. It is a suite of colourful vignettes conjuring up childrenís games and dreams. It is one of his most appealing works with more than a touch of delicate humour. The Neo-classical Sonatina Op.88 is probably his best-known piano work, or Ė at least Ė the one that has secured a permanent place in the repertoire. Quite deservedly so for its brevity encompasses all major Jongen hallmarks Ďin a nutshellí. The three Impromptus, Op.87, Op.99 and Op.126 No.1 (the latter his penultimate piano work) were written at various periods of Jongenís prolific composing career. All three are free fantasies of almost improvisatory character and of great melodic charm. The 24 petits préludes dans tous les tons Op.116, composed during the war years in 1940-1941, are short character studies of great variety, never outstaying their welcome. They are in turn dreamy, playful, tender, lightly dancing, paying passing homage to Chopin (No.17) and to Scarlatti (No.22) or greeting his daughterís third birthday (No.9). The whole set is capped by a lively and brilliant Toccata-fanfare of great verve followed by a peaceful, song-like epilogue (No.24 Pour conclure). This is another major achievement far transcending the implied didactic purpose its title might suggest.

Diane Andersenís richly varied tonal palette, effortless technique and poetic insight are ideally suited to Jongenís superbly crafted, subtly varied and appealing music. This is a real must for any Jongen lover. I am eagerly awaiting Volume 2 and the opportunity to hear more of his music.

Hubert Culot


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