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Joseph Jongen (1873-1953)
In Flanders’ Field: Volume 41
Trio for piano, violin and cello in G minor Op. 10
(1897) [29:09]
Trio for piano, violin and viola (Prélude Variations et Final) Op. 30 (1907) [30:38]
Erard Ensemble:  Caspar Bleumers, violin; Arjan Wildschut, viola; John Addison, cello and Edward Janning, piano.
Recorded at Maria Minor Kirk Amsterdam 19th - 21st June 2003 DDD
PHAEDRA 92041 [59:47]


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I have always been a fan of the music of Joseph Jongen. However it has only been relatively recently that the interested listener could gain a fuller perspective on this underrated Belgian composer. The greatest achievement must be John Scott Whitley's magisterial survey of the complete organ works on Priory PRCD-731AB - along with a scholarly tome on the same topic. There have been a couple of versions of what is effectively the composer's organ concerto, the Symphonie Concertante. However there has been a recent revival of interest in his music not composed for the organ loft. Naxos has issued a flute and piano CD (Naxos 8557111) and Gary Stegall explores the piano repertoire (Klavier Records 11032).

Yet a brief look at Jongen's catalogue of works reveals a wealth of music that is largely unexplored and forgotten. For example I have now discovered he composed a Cello Concerto and a Piano Concerto. So there is much to discover here.

The two present works form part of a large corpus of chamber music. The first Trio for piano violin and cello was composed in 1897 at a time when the composer was still learning his craft at the conservatory in Liège. It is dedicated to his father 'out of gratitude'. Here it is easy to play spot the allusion or hunt the influence. And it would be even easier to jump up and down shouting ‘César Franck!’ However it can never be too forcefully emphasised just what an influence this elder composer had on Belgian music in particular and European music in general. Perhaps he is best remembered for his ‘invention’ of the cyclic form.

But Jongen uses his material in novel and quite personal ways. There is a warmth in much of this music that was to fully emerge in later years. This is lyrical music at its very best. Apart from an apparent subconscious quotation from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade this work is bound together by self-referring melodies. However one of the glories of Jongen's use of the cyclic form is his tendency to introduce new melodies for a few bars and then forget them. So it is a fine balance between what has gone before and continual invention.

Jongen wrote his second Trio during the winter of 1906/07 and it is a somewhat unusual combination. The cello is replaced by the viola. The work is subtitled Prélude, Variations et Final.

We immediately appear to be in a much more subtle world than in the earlier work. The programme notes tell us that this is mono-thematic. Without the score it is hard to agree or disagree with this statement. Suffice to say that this method of construction does not lessen the musical interest. At no time does the Trio pall or flag; the music develops from bar to bar in the most natural and convincing manner. At the end of the day this is an extremely romantic work; full of passion and in places quite intense. The highlight is undoubtedly the slow movement - with truly beautiful writing for the ensemble.

The sound quality is perfect and the playing manifestly accomplished and confident. The programme notes could be more comprehensive as there is little around to make informed opinions about this neglected composer but tell enough to make for informed listening.

Phaedra has done an excellent job in presenting these two attractive works to the musical public. The discography reveals another six CDs in the same series, all devoted to Jongen’s music. There is much to explore and one can only hope that this fine music will take its rightful place on the canon of European music.

John France




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