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Joseph JONGEN (1873 Ė 1953)
Comala Op.14 (1897)a
Clair de lune Op.33 (1915 Ė orchestral version)b
Clair de lune Op.33 (1908 Ė piano)c
Sophie Martin-Degor (soprano)a; Marc Laho (tenor)a; Roger Joakim (baritone)a; Marcelle Mercenier (piano)c; Choeur symphonique de Namura;
Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège et de la Communauté Wallonie-Bruxellesab/Jean-Pierre Haeckab
Recorded: Salle Philharmonique, Liège, February 2003 and September 2003; 1973

When he was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1897 for his cantata Comala Op.14, Jongen was by no means a beginner. He had already composed two substantial, large-scale works, his First String Quartet Op.3 and his Piano Trio Op.10, both of which play for nearly three quarters of an hour. The cantata was followed by another major, but long-neglected work, Jongenís only Symphony Op.15 completed in 1899.

The text of the cantata, by Paul Gilson after Ossian, is a typical Prix de Rome libretto, often pretentious and would-be symbolic or philosophical, more often downright silly. This actually seems a common characteristic of most similar texts. The miracle, and it has always been a cause of wonder to me, is that composers nevertheless managed to write satisfying scores on such abstruse librettos. Many fine operas are of course written to librettos of dubious literary quality. Jongenís Comala and Capletís Myrrha are marvellous examples of what gifted composers may achieve with such texts. Gilsonís text was in three parts, but the composer did not set the third one, for obvious dramatic Ė and logical Ė reasons. Indeed, in the second part, Comala prepares to take her life at the news of Fingalís death; but at the very end of the second part, the warriorsí chorus hail Fingalís unexpected return!

Needless to say, Comala is a quite early work in Jongenís output in which there is very little of the composerís mature music. What comes through clearly, however, is the mastery of the young composer who is already in full command of his skills, albeit still in a fairly traditional manner.

So, the first part (set for soloists and male chorus) is full of martial, war-like music replete with menacing or heroic fanfares as well as almost operatic duos and airs. The second part calls for the whole forces and musically speaking is, to some extent, more personal. The orchestral introduction to Part II is simply magical and its atmospheric mood gives a foretaste of Jongenís later music. The cantata was revived in Liège early last year at the opening concert launching the Année Jongen, after more than a century of neglect. To tell you the truth, I did not really expect what I actually heard. The music displays a remarkable dramatic flair that Jongen never exploited in his later output. Comala is in fact the nearest Jongen ever got to opera; and one cannot but wonder what an opera by Jongen could have been like, had he composed one during his mature years.

This recording was made at the time of the pieceís revival when it was performed by the same forces. All concerned deserve our gratitude for their commitment and dedication.

Clair de lune Op.33 is the first of the Two Piano Pieces Op.33 (1908) which the composer orchestrated in 1915 when he was in England. This is a typical Jongen work in which the composerís affinities with the musical Impressionism of Debussy and Ravel is evident, as it is in most of his mature output. The orchestral version is really very fine and may be compared with the original piano version played here by Marcelle Mercenier (from a long-cherished LP released many years ago and responsible for the present writerís addiction to Jongenís music).

This is a major release for all Jongen fans; but it should also appeal to any music lover relishing lush romantic music of great beauty and of direct appeal.

Hubert Culot


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