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Kees van BAAREN (1906 – 1970)
The Hollow Men (1948, revised 1955)a
Variazioni per orchestra (1959)
Sinfonia (1956/7)
Musica per orchestra (1965/6)
Monique Krüs (soprano)a; Maarten Koningsberger (baritone)a; Netherlands
Radio Choira;
Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland/Reinbert de Leeuw
Recorded: Studio MCO5, Hilversum, October 2000
DONEMUS CV 103 [65:20]

Kees van Baaren, who studied with Willem Pijper, was one of the first Dutch composers to embrace dodecaphony and serialism though without ever adhering strictly to either technique. As a renowned pedagogue, he influenced several of the most notorious Dutch composers including Peter Schat, Jan van Vlijmen and Louis Andriessen. However these composers’ individual personalities were such that one cannot really speak of a "Van Baaren School" as such.

Van Baaren discarded a number of his early scores, so that his reputation as a composer rests on a handful of works of substance that nevertheless clearly illustrate his musical progress. The four works in this disc span some twenty years of his composing life. One of his early surviving works is the concise neo-classical Piano Concertino of 1934. It belongs to the composer’s first stylistic period, whereas his late major works such as the Piano Concerto of 1964 and the mighty Musica per orchestra of 1965-1966 clearly belong to his serially-oriented last period.

The earliest work here is the cantata The Hollow Men. The original version of 1948 was scored for chamber orchestra, whereas the revised version of 1955 is scored for standard orchestral forces. It is clearly a transitional work; for the music constantly confronts freely tonal, chromatic orchestral writing with more traditional choral and vocal writing. His setting of T.S. Eliot’s eponymous poem reflects in a fairly straightforward way the various moods and feelings suggested by the words. The final movement is a particularly striking example of the stylistic dichotomy: it quotes a British folk tune, actually suggested by Eliot’s words ("Here we go round the prickly pear... At five o’clock in the morning"); but the folk tune is contradicted by some aggressive, dissonant martial music. Though still rooted in tradition, the music nevertheless points, albeit tentatively, towards new developments in van Baaren’s musical thinking.

Sinfonia, composed in 1956-1957 on a commission from the City of Amsterdam, still displays some neo-classical traits reminiscent of Stravinsky, Hindemith, Fortner and even Bartók. "The piece is intended as a carefree, playful homage to the perfection of classical forms and orchestral organisation". The music tends to belie the composer’s own words for it is often austere, dark-hued and restrained rather than "carefree and playful". The final movement Quodlibet is probably the only section that may be aptly described as "carefree and playful".

In Variazioni per orchestra of 1959, van Baaren clearly moves one step further into serialism. This concise, though substantial set of variations is based on a twelve-tone row which is intricately worked-out. Another feature on display in this pivotal work is the extensive use of percussion. For all its concision, Variazioni per orchestra is a major work that does not pale when compared to Webern’s own Variationen Op.30.

The imposing Musica per orchestra of 1965-1966 is, in some ways, the culmination of van Baaren’s musical journey. By now he has fully mastered his technique, which allows him greater freedom and subtlety in his handling of twelve-tone material. The music is redolent of that of Alban Berg (particularly so in the whimsical waltz rhythm in the second movement) but of Dallapiccola. At the same time there is a formidable orchestral mastery, that results in what the writer of the insert notes aptly describes as "serial bel canto". If you know Dallapiccola’s superb orchestral work Three Questions and two Answers, you will know what to expect from van Baaren’s Musica per orchestra, probably the crowning achievement of his compositional career.

This very fine release pays a much deserved tribute to an important composer whose achievement has often been overlooked. His limited existing output in no way rules van Baaren out as a pedagogue who also composed or a peripheral composer. Instead it reveals the substance and originality of his music.

Hubert Culot

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