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The Flemish Connection II
Michel BRUSSELMANS (1886 – 1960)

Scènes Breugheliennes (1911)
Flor ALPAERTS (1876 – 1954)

Salome’s dans van de zeven sluiers (1907)
Lodewijk MORTELMANS (1898 – 1952)

Lyrisch gedicht (1893)
Renaat VEREMANS (1894 – 1969)

Nacht en morgenontwaken aan de Nete (1957)
Frank van der STUCKEN (1858 – 1929)

Sinfonischer Prolog zu Heinrich Heines "William Ratcliff" Op.6
Vlaams Radio Orkest; Bjarte Engeset
Recorded: Eden Hall, Leuven, Belgium, January 2002
KLARA MMP 029 [72:19]

NOTE: Information concerning KLARA CDs may be found on or by contacting Maestro Music Productions, Markstraat 11, B-3680 MAASEIK.

Born in Paris to Belgian parents, Michel Brusselmans returned to Belgium while still a child. He studied at the Brussels Conservatory, among others, with Edgar Tinel and Paul Gilson. Later he went back to Paris to work with Vincent d’Indy. He remained in France for most of his life but died in Brussels in 1960. While in France, he was hired by the French publishing firm Salabert to compose music for silent films, which provided him with financial means that allowed him to devote his time to the composition of his "serious" output that includes several symphonies, much orchestral and vocal music. A number of his orchestral works, such as the symphonic sketches Scènes Breugheliennes heard here, were inspired by pictorial or literary sources. Bruegel the Elder’s paintings inspired several symphonic pieces by Belgian composers, such as Meulemans’ Peter Breugel (1952), Chevreuille’s Breughel, peintres des humbles Op.82 (1963) – a new recording of this beautiful work is long overdue – or Sternefeld’s impressive Second Symphony. Brusselmans’ attractive suite is in five short sections inspired by the various moods depicted in Bruegel’s paintings rather than by any specific paintings. Whiffs of Flemish folk songs as well as folk like original tunes abound in this colourful, superbly crafted piece, full of nicely atmospheric touches, in turn joyous, dreamy or overtly rumbustious as in the final Kermesse flamande.

In 1907 Flor Alpaerts composed some incidental music for Wilde’s play Salome of which Salome’s dance of the seven veils heard here. Alpaerts conceived it as a set of seven short variations on an appropriately languorous theme. The whole, however, has very little of Strauss’s white-heat passion and sensuality though it is, as ever, superbly crafted.

The music of Lodewijk Mortelmans is, I think, the perfect example of the typical progress followed by many Flemish composers of his generation (and even of later generations). His early music is still much indebted to the then prevailing Romanticism whereas his mature music often leans towards Impressionism. In 1893 he composed a piece for harp and strings Lyrisch gezang ("Lyrical Song") which he later re-scored for small orchestra and re-titled as Lyrisch gedicht ("Lyrical Poem") heard here. Broad, sweeping melodies, sometimes bringing Elgar to mind, characterise this fine, Romantic work of great melodic charm.

Renaat Veremans was a prolific composer, mainly of choral music. He nevertheless composed several symphonies as well as several orchestral pieces such as Nacht en morgenontwaken aan de Nete ("Night and Dawn on the Nete") composed in 1957 and dedicated to the memory of the Flemish writer Felix Timmermans with whom Veremans regularly travelled to Antwerp to hear Wagner’s music which both admired. The Nete is the river flowing near Lier where Veremans and Timmermans lived. This symphonic poem falls into two main sections: an atmospheric, impressionist Nocturne and a bright Dawn section building-up towards a dazzling conclusion. Again, the music is a mix of Impressionism (in the Nocturne) and of late Romanticism (in the impressive Dawn section) which is so characteristic of some Flemish music.

Now, I must admit that both Frank van der Stucken’s name and music are completely new to me. Jan Dewilde’s excellent notes tell us that he was born in Fredericksburg (Texas) to a Flemish father and a German mother. The family came back to Antwerp when he was still a child. He began his musical studies in his hometown. He later went to Leipzig where he studied with Carl Reinecke and befriended Grieg. He became Kapellmeister in Breslau and, in 1884, came back to Antwerp. There he conducted much American music (so we are told but I wonder which works he may have conducted), which probably led to his appointment as conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which Eugène Ysaye also conducted much later. However, in 1883, he met Liszt in Weimar. Liszt supported the young composer in setting-up a concert entirely devoted to the music of van der Stucken. The Sinfonischer Prolog zu Heinrich Heines Tragödie "William Ratcliff" Op.6 was performed during this concert. This is by far the weightiest and the most ambitious piece in this programme (it plays for nearly half an hour). Not unsurprisingly, the music is in the big Romantic mould, influenced by Liszt and Berlioz. There are many arresting orchestral touches. One of the most remarkable of these is the Prelude in which superimposed layers of sound, which the composer describes as rhapsodische Klänge, create a queer, uneasy and menacing mood. After this ambiguous, indeterminate introduction, the music sets out to depict the various moods of Heine’s drama to which the composer responds with some vivid orchestral gestures. On the whole, this powerfully impressive piece may be a bit too long for its own sake, but is quite an achievement by a composer still in his early twenties.

This second volume sets forth the pattern initiated in The Flemish Connection (KLARA MMP 024, also reviewed here), though it more overtly focuses on composers whose music was still clearly indebted to Romanticism, though some of them were to look elsewhere later. All these pieces – new to the catalogue, if I am not mistaken – are all well worth having and definitely well worth more than the occasional hearing, which makes this finely played and well recorded release a welcome and desirable disc.

Hubert Culot

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