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Lex van DELDEN (1919-1988)
Quartetto Op.58 (1957) [14:14]
Sestetto per Archi Op.97 (1971) [16:42]
Duo per Flauto ed Arpa Op.27 (1950) [11:46]
Introduzione e Danza Op.26 (1950) [9:35]
Nonetto per Amsterdam Op.101 (1975) [18:15]
Viotta Ensemble
Recorded: Doopsgezinde Singelkerk, Amsterdam, June 2004
MDG 603 1317-2 [71:10]

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Born Alexander Zwaap to a Jewish family active in the diamond industry and cattle trade, van Delden ( began composing at eleven, but remained largely self-taught. He enrolled at the University of Amsterdam to study neuro-surgery; but war and a domestic accident that almost blinded one eye put an end to his medical studies. Most members of his family died in the gas chambers, but van Delden remained in the Netherlands and joined the Resistance. In 1953 the name he derived from the one he used in the Resistance, was officially approved and he has since then been known as Lex van Delden. By the time of his death in 1988, he had accumulated a sizeable body of some 125 works in almost every genre although most of his pre-war and wartime compositions were destroyed in the bombing of Nijmegen in 1944. His music may be best described as 20th century mainstream, and is characterised by clarity, concision and economy of means. Although he sometimes toyed with tone-rows - not necessarily twelve-tone rows, as his Symphony No.3 “Facetten” Op.45 of 1955, based on a 21-tone row, clearly shows - he never abandoned tonality, albeit a very free tonality. In the words of his older colleague, Matthijs Vermeulen, “he listens instinctively, composes instinctively ... he always has style, but never shows off ... [his music is] something exquisitely useful, something popular (without deliberately wishing to be popular”. He was never one to waste a note, and – as a result – his pieces are often perfectly shaped, superbly crafted, direct of appeal and expression, so that they rarely outstay their welcome. This is certainly the case with the chamber works recorded here.

The earliest items here, Introduzione e Danza Op.26 (flute, clarinet, string trio and piano) and Duo per Flauto ed Arpa Op.27, both date from 1950. The Duo - beautifully played here by Emily and Catherine Beynon was first performed to great acclaim at the 1952 ISCM festival in Salzburg. It was written for two players from the Concertgebouw Orchestra - harpist Pia Berghout to whom van Delden dedicated no less than six works for and with harp, and flautist Hubert Barwhaser. It was one of his first major works and put him firmly on the international musical map. Two years earlier, Barwahser took part in the premiere of Introduzione e Danza “Judith”. The subtitle alludes to the fact that the piece was originally conceived as a score for solo dance based on the eponymous verse drama by Herman van den Eerenbeemt. Though essentially abstract, the music alludes to Judith dancing for Holofernes before beheading him thus freeing her people from Babylon’s tyranny. It is in three concise, neatly contrasted movements: a moderately fast March, a fairly simple Allegretto scherzando with a slower central section and a lively Rondo to round it off.

The Quartetto Op.58 for flute and string trio dates from 1957, and is again in three succinct movements. It is somewhat lighter in mood, a short uncomplicated and attractive divertimento of almost Gallic clarity and transparency. This is music of direct appeal and great charm.

On the other hand, the Sestetto per Archi Op.97 from 1971 is a more ambitious, serious and substantial work that fellow-composer Marius Flothuis rightly considered as one of van Delden’s most original pieces. Here van Delden constantly varies the instrumental layout in order to create a continuous change of perspective. So, in the first movement Lento-Allegro delle coppie-Lento, the central section has the string ensemble divided into three duos that constantly interplay, whereas the second movement (Lento di terzetti) emphasises the dialogue between two trios that are also instructed to regroup accordingly. The full string ensemble is heard as such in the last movement, a lively Rondo capped by a beautifully lyrical coda.

The Nonetto per Amsterdam Op.101 was completed in 1975 to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the City of Amsterdam. So, the Introduzione con motto that opens the piece is based on a theme spelling the name of the city, a nine-note motto that recurs, albeit with variations. The work is a fine evocation of the city, without being programmatic. There is good humour, swagger and bustle in the fast movements, while the slow Passacaglia has a slightly nostalgic ring “such as sometimes pervades Amsterdam on a rainy day in Autumn” (Lex van Delden jr.). The Nonetto is another quite substantial work.

Although van Delden’s music was never really forgotten, as far as recordings are concerned (although a number of them date back to the LP era), this collection of chamber works is most welcome. It provides a fair introduction to his substantial output. Excellent performances by the Viotta Ensemble (all players from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra), who will, I hope, record more of van Delden’s chamber works. This very fine release pays a well-deserved tribute to a most distinguished composer whose music is still too rarely heard, let alone, recorded. Recommended. 

Hubert Culot

As a footnote, I would like to mention another disc with orchestral music by van Delden, including three major pieces that may still be available and that is well worth looking for, i.e. if interested in van Delden’s music (Etcetera KTC 1156 published in 1993). It includes old live recordings made in the late 1950s and mid-1960s (some of them are still in mono) of Sinfonia No.3 “Facetten” Op.45, the magnificent Concerto per due Orchestre d’Archi Op.71 and the impressive Musica Sinfonica Op.93, all by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Eugen Jochum, George Szell and Bernard Haitink.



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