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).
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.