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Peter-Jan WAGEMANS (b. 1952)
De Zevende Symfonie (1999)a [54:58]
De Stad en de Engel (1996, rev. 1997)b [14:51]
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Hans Leendersa; Micha Hamelb
rec. Vredenburg, Utrcht, February 2006 (Symphony) and October 2006 (De Stad en de Engel)
ET’CETERA KTC 1347 [69:49]

Now in his mid-fifties, Peter-Jan Wagemans (www.peter-janwagemans.com) has a sizeable output to his credit, in which works for orchestra and ensemble have the lion’s share. One of his first acknowledged works is the Symphony Op.3 composed as early as 1972, whereas his last essay in the genre is De Zevende Symfonie ("The Seventh Symphony") under review completed in 1999. However, with the notable exception of his Symphony No.6 "Panthalassa" for large wind ensemble written in 1994, there are no other works with that title in Wagemans’ list of works. Instead there are four works for various ensembles with or without voices sharing the nondescript title of "Muziek" (i.e. just plain "Music"), which are in fact the ‘missing’ symphonies in his output. His last symphony (so far) De Zevende Symfonie in five strongly contrasted movements and playing for fifty-five minutes is the longest contemporary Dutch symphony so far. The only equivalent that I can think of is Peter Schat’s De hemel Op.37 (1989/90), a large-scale theme and variations playing for a little under fifty minutes. As is often the case with Wagemans’ music, the Seventh Symphony is scored for large orchestral forces, including a pair of Glockenspiels, Wagner tubas and two bugles (on opposite sides of the orchestra). The five movements draw their inspiration from various sources, although the end result is a purely abstract piece of music, that may be appreciated without any prior knowledge of these sources. The first movement Über’m Sternenzelt obliquely alludes to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. This rather long movement, in which the Glockenspiels suggest some vast empty world is followed by a comparatively short Scherzo (Het zwarte licht en het heldere duister, i.e. "The dark light and the bright darkness") that now briefly alludes to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony and moves forward forcefully, though ending rather abruptly. This leads into another long movement Mehr Licht! ("More Light"), that may be considered as the slow movement of the symphony although the music is not without contrast. It ends with a long ethereal cantilena played by the first violins. The fourth movement, titled after Dali’s painting The Future commits Sodomy with the Horns of its own Memory is a potpourri using typical Wagemans technique: a musical mosaic made of several musical quotes in a collage of some sort. The quotes include the opening canon from Webern’s Symphony, albeit put in such a context as to be completely disguised and – by so doing – creating a totally different type of music. It somewhat functions as a second, whimsical and rather enigmatic Scherzo. The final movement Het grote lied ("The Great Song") reunites various elements from the preceding movements, that seem to "fall into place like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle" (Maarten Brandt). This final movement, however, is really mostly what its title says - a grand song for orchestra. Wagemans’ monumental Seventh Symphony is a considerable achievement in its own right, albeit one that does not reveal all its secrets in a single hearing, which makes this release the more welcome.

The somewhat shorter and slightly earlier De Stad en de Engel ("The City and the Angel") of 1996 is a sort of tone poem inspired by James Ensor’s huge, colourful canvas The Entry of Christ into Brussels in which Christ on his donkey is seen as a tiny figure amid a numerous, grimacing crowd. Masks play an important part in Ensor’s oeuvre. "My intention here was to suggest a medieval feast day, although with music that would never have been played like this in the Middle Ages" (the composer’s words). The bustle of the crowd is again suggested by the use of musical mosaic, with rapid changes between musical styles. The central figure of Christ is represented by a soft chorale at the centre of the piece. The composer’s initial idea was to have the "little holy figure" winning at the end. However, the composer felt that the work was somewhat incomplete, and he added a "much more forbidding conclusion", in which the crowd eventually has the last word.

It is not always easy to describe Wagemans’ music. It clearly stands apart from many current musical trends of his time. I suppose that it might be best described as "post-modern" or something like that. Nevertheless, Wagemans has a real gift for amalgamating different styles, making the whole unmistakably his own. These two works, as well as much of his output, displays both his love for the orchestra and his mastery in writing for orchestral forces, small or large. These fine performances caught in excellent recorded sound serve his colourful music well.

Hubert Culot




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