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Joseph JONGEN (1873 Ė 1953)
Piano Quartet Op.23 (1902)
Piano Trio Op.30 (1906/7)
Ensemble Joseph Jongen (Diane Andersen, piano; Eliot Lawson, violin; Jacques Dupriez, viola; Mark Drobinsky, cello)
Recorded: Studio The Right Place, Brussels, May 2003
CYPRES CYP 1638 [78:33]


Jongenís ambitious Piano Quartet Op.23 is one of the works that he had to deliver after being awarded the Rome Prize in 1897 for his cantata Comala Op.14 (Musique en Wallonie MEW 0214, reviewed here some time ago). This substantial piece (it plays for some fifty minutes) belongs to Jongenís early maturity; and, as may be expected, is still much indebted to Franck and díIndy while already slightly influenced by Fauré and Debussy. The composer displays his remarkable formal mastery as well as his rich melodic fund, although one must admit that the piece is not without longueurs. The Piano Quartet, however, shows some considerable progress when compared, say, to the equally ambitious First String Quartet Op.3 (1894) that may be rather rambling at times and revealing very little of the mature Jongen. One of the most immediately striking characteristics of this work is Jongenís formal mastery and ability to write on a large scale, as well as his idiomatic instrumental writing. The Piano Quartet is in four movements (Large-Animé, Assez vite, Pas trop lent and Assez animé) of which the second, a short Scherzo redolent of some rustic dance (a typical Jongen trait, this) is the one that most clearly points towards Jongenís mature style. After a solemn and weighty introduction, the cello launches the Animé section of the first movement with a gorgeously lyrical theme offset by a calmer second subject. The rest of the movement, roughly in sonata form, generously develops both themes. The imposing first movement is followed by the lovely Scherzo the trio sections of which hark back at the second subject of the first movement. The main theme of the beautifully lyrical slow movement, first stated by the viola, is actually a variant of the main theme of the Scherzo. Significantly enough, I think, Jongenís marking Pas trop lent ("Not too slow") is a clear indication that the musicís lyrical mood should not be overdone and that the slow movement should be played as a long song without words, warmly expansive but without sentimentality. The sunny mood of the fourth movement ends the work in exulting manner. In spite of some longueurs, thus, the Piano Quartet is a splendid piece of music in its own right.

The slightly later Piano Trio Op.30 is for the somewhat unusual combination of violin, viola and piano. It was written for his friends and colleagues, the violinist Emile Chaumont and the violist Oscar Englebert, who gave the first performance with the composer at the piano. This attractive work clearly belongs to Jongenís mature years; for, if Franckís shadow may still be looming to some extent, Fauré and Debussy are now his models. On the whole, too, the piece is much more compact than some of Jongenís earlier works. While still tightly argued, the music displays a greater formal freedom and unreins Jongenís imagination. Now, all the ingredients of Jongenís mature style are on full display (a subtle blend of modal and chromatic writing). Time will simply bring in some more refinement and formal concision. The Piano Trio is clearly one of Jongenís earliest masterpieces, that Ė with the Piano Quartet Ė was a key work in the repertoire of the Quatuor Belge de Londres in which the viola part was played by Lionel Tertis.

2003 (Jongenís Year in Belgium celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his death) was a glorious year for all his admirers; and the present release coupling two magnificent and substantial pieces in immaculate performances and superb recording Ė as well as all the other that I have been to review so far Ė is another important milestone and a magnificent addition to this composerís discography. Jongen? Yes, the Symphonie Concertante, but what else? Now, you know.

Hubert Culot

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