Over the last
ten years or so, Piet Swerts regularly composed for symphonic wind band,
for which he has an obvious flair, as the works here clearly show. In general,
however, his music for wind band is simpler and more straightforward, technically
and emotionally than, say, his Second String Quartet or his Second Symphony Morgenrot,
the latter being one of his greatest works. He is also a brilliant pianist
and a piano teacher, who has a wide-ranging knowledge of the repertoire.
This shows in Wings, his fifth piano concerto. It is scored
for symphonic wind band, and cast in three movements in the traditional
pattern. In the first movement, by far the longest, Swerts re-visits the
piano repertoire with allusions to and near-quotes of music by older composers,
such as Tchaikovsky, Grieg and Rachmaninov, and fleeting references to
Second Piano Concerto, Poulenc’s Piano Concerto and Ravel’s G major Concerto.
The slow movement is much simpler in design, actually a song without words
of great lyrical charm and, to my ears, modelled on the slow movement of
Ravel’s G major Concerto. However, it is first and foremost a fine
example of Swerts’ natural lyricism. The third movement is a brilliant Toccata
of great rhythmical verve. The piece never sounds as eclectic as one might
think, and the whole work, kept tight by Swerts’ instrumental and formal
mastery, is really enjoyable.
composed on commission, the other works here display Swerts’ versatility and expertise
to the full. The music is likely to appeal in direct terms, but still challenges
the players’ skills. So, Centennial, composed to celebrate
the 100th anniversary of the Royal Belgian Football Association,
is a rousing march framed by a solemn introduction and a grand hymn-like
coda. On the other hand, Fantasy Tales is a short tone poem
evoking the history of the Dutch town Horn on the River Meuse; and the main
theme is thus given to the horn section. A lively Allegro evoking the rural
life of the city and its castle is followed by a short war-like episode alluding
to the city’s occupation during the war. The piece ends with a triumphant
restatement of the horns’ theme. This is, to my mind, one of the finest pieces
here and one worth wider currency among wind bands.
Shirim, subtitled A Klezmer Rhapsody, draws on a number of original
Klezmer tunes used in such a way as to provide dynamic contrast. It ends
with a joyful dance medley.
As might be expected, The
Titanic Saga, A Symphonic Tone Poem, is rather more ambitious
and, on the whole, more overtly programmatic. The music unfolds swiftly
in a kaleidoscopic manner, with vividly scored episodes retracing the
Titanic’s fateful journey.
Tyndale Overture was commissioned to mark the 150th anniversary
of the Horse Fair in Vilvoorde in Belgium, a most improbable occasion
to evoke the English theologian burnt alive as a heretic and William
Byrd whose anthem Sing joyfully unto God our strength is
briefly quoted during the course of the piece. Some of the thematic material
(A-B-D-E) is also derived from the name of Jean-Luc Dehaene, former Prime
Minister and present Mayor of Vilvoorde. The musical result, however,
is another fine piece of well-made occasional music with many fine touches
for symphonic wind band is expertly done, attractive, accessible, challenging
and rewarding to play and hear. These pieces should be eagerly picked-up
by bands willing to have some less familiar pieces in their repertoire. The
quality of the music is such that this nicely recorded and produced release
should appeal to those who appreciate fine music-making.