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Jef van HOOF (1886–1959)
In Flanders’ Fields – Volume 51
Suite from “Meivuur” (1916) [14:31]
Divertimento for Trombone and Orchestra (1935)a [7:11]
Vier Giza Ritschl liederen (1906)b [7:41]
Lentestemming (1910)b [1:50]
Drei Lieder im Volkston (1907)b [5:58]
Nanoen in huis (1946)b [1:40]
Volkslied : ik heb u lief (1906)b [2:20]
De Crans es uutghehanghen (1913)b [4:16]
Symphony No.3 in E flat major (1944/5) [31:35]
Ann De Renais (soprano)b; Ivan Meylemans (trombone)a
Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra/Zsolt Hamar
rec. Music Hall, Pècs, Hungary, June 2006
PHAEDRA 92051 [78:28]

Sound Sample
Opening of The Garland Has Been Hung
Sound samples are removed after two months

Not that long ago, I reviewed another Phaedra CD entirely devoted to Van Hoof (Phaedra 92044 - see review). I will not repeat the general comments about the composer and his music. Suffice to say that Van Hoof’s music belongs to well-behaved Post-Romanticism, although it allows some light impressionistic touches here and there. He composed in a warmly Romantic idiom, that may be considered anachronistic considering that he was roughly contemporary to, say, Bartòk, Kodaly and Prokofiev. However, his seemingly inexhaustible melodic fund and the clarity and lightness of his scoring impart to his music a highly personal touch, light years away from academic Romantic bombast that one might expect. This shines clearly through the various pieces recorded here.
Van Hoof composed a good deal of songs and vocal music in the early stages of his long composing life. It will not come as a surprise to realise that all but one of the songs recorded here are fairly early. Most of them were composed in 1906 and 1907 when he was twenty and still a student at the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp. He drew on a wide range of literary sources and none of the poets whose texts he used is known to me. It may be of interest then to say a few words about Giza Ritschl (her full name was Giza Zsuzánna Ritschl), who was born in Budapest in 1869 and died in The Hague in 1942. This Hungarian-born Dutch poet settled in the Netherlands when she was seventeen as a circus artist. She published several volumes of short poems influenced by Hungarian folksong. These were highly regarded by some of the then eminent Dutch poets. The Vier Giza Ritschl liederen (“Four songs after Giza Ritschl”) were composed in 1906 when the composer was recovering from a difficult period caused by the early death of his mother. He chose four short poems dealing with death, parting and solitude. The orchestral versions were made in 1913 and 1917. These songs make it clear that he found his voice early on in his career. They have much in common with the songs of Fauré and Duparc, although they are generally more straightforward and less sophisticated. From the same year comes Volkslied: ik heb u lief (“Folksong: I love you”), a simple but moving love song, one of the finest in this selection. The Drei Lieder im Volkston from 1907 are something of an exception in Van Hoof’s vocal output, in that it must be the only work in which he used German texts, again by somewhat obscure poets. The title of this short cycle is a misleading, in that the music never suggests folk song, although Van Hoof composed numerous arrangements of Flemish folk songs. The “Volkston” rather refers to the folk-like strophic structure of the poems. Lentestemming (“A Mood of Spring”) is a fresh, sunny impression, and a real little gem. In De Crans es uutghehanghen (“The Garland has been hung”), the modally inflected music perfectly reflects the archaic text. This beautiful song is – as far as I am concerned – another little gem, along with Lentestemming and the much later Nanoen in huis (“Afternoon at Home”), a beautiful lullaby composed in 1946.
Van Hoof composed three short operas. Meivuur (“Fire of May”), his second opera, described as a two-act pastoral play by the composer, was composed between 1913 and 1915, while the scoring was completed in 1916. Because of World War I, the premiered was postponed until January 1924. He made an orchestral suite using material from the first act, and the three sections play without a break: Angelus (an atmospheric evocation of dusk, with bells peeling in the distance), Kindertonelen (“Children’s Scenes”, a lively dance-like section) and Stoet (“Cortège”, ending with a joyous dance around the Maypole).
He wrote only four fairly short concertante pieces, and the most unusual of them is the Divertimento for Trombone and Orchestra completed in 1935. This short piece falls into two neatly contrasting sections played without a break: a lyrical Moderato exploiting the singing quality of the trombone, and a Scherzo calling for virtuosity and ending in jollity.
The major work in this generously filled release is undoubtedly the Symphony No.3 in E flat major composed between 1944 and 1945, a rather difficult period for Van Hoof. In 1942 he was appointed director of the Royal Flemish Conservatory in Antwerp. Because of his overtly nationalistic feelings, some suspected that his appointment was fostered by the German occupying authorities, which it was not. Nevertheless he lost his job at the liberation. The first performance of his Third Symphony in 1949 came as some sort of rehabilitation for the composer. This said, the Third Symphony as well as the Second Symphony of 1941, may be said to reflect the composer’s feelings about war, although both are essentially abstract pieces. The first movement, opening with an imposing theme on which the entire movement is built, is a fine example of “monothematic” thinking, although the movement as such cannot be described as a theme and variations. The heart of the symphony lies in the sorrowful, doom-laden slow movement (Tempo di marcia Funebre), the music of which speaks for itself. It opens with a sombre slow march theme played by trombones and tuba underpinned by timpani, side drum and pizzicati in the cellos and basses - one may be reminded of Holst. The music gets considerable momentum before dying away as it began. The following Scherzo fiercely relieves the accumulated tension. The fourth movement is based on a forceful main theme derived from the first theme of the opening movement and is cast in a loose rondo form with a ritornello derived from the second theme of the preceding Scherzo. The interplay between the various themes of the finale unfolds in sometimes unexpected directions. The coda is decidedly assertive.
I have only praise for these performances, which are all very fine. Ann De Renais sings beautifully throughout, and the Hungarian orchestra works wonders in music that must have been quite unfamiliar to them. Recording and production are excellent too.
As already mentioned earlier in this review, Van Hoof’s music is firmly anchored in Post-Romantic aesthetics; and anyone enjoying warmly lyrical, richly melodic Romantic music will find much to enjoy here.

Hubert Culot

Jef van Hoof’s symphonies on discs:
Symphonies No.1 and No.4 - Phaedra 92013
Symphony No.2 - Marco Polo 8.225101
Symphonies No.5 and No.6 - Phaedra 92044


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