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In Flanders' Fields Vol. 18
Ernest VAN DER EYKEN (b. 1913)
Elegie voor Bieke (1983)a [7:58]
Refereynen ende Liedekens (1964)b [8:22]
Poëma (1937)b [8:16]
Symphony for Strings (1967)b [19:41]
BRTN Philharmonic Orchestra/Fernand Terbya
string orchestra/Ernest Van der Eykenb
rec. September 1986 (Elegie) and July 1971 (other works)
PHAEDRA 92018 [44:17]

Recently I reviewed a Phaedra release with several chamber works by Ernest van der Eyken (Phaedra 92047 - see review). It proved a real ear-opener. So, I could not resist reviewing an earlier release with Van der Eyken’s output for strings. A professional string player, he writes beautifully and effectively for strings, as is clearly to be heard in these works as well as in the masterly Second String Quartet. Moreover, the composer conducts most of these pieces, which adds a touch of authenticity.
The early Poëma completed in 1937 may still be indebted to Post-romantic aesthetics and for this reason slightly impersonal but the music already displays considerable formal and technical mastery. This fine piece is neither a prentice work nor a slavish imitation of earlier aesthetics; but clearly points towards the composer’s mature style, which will first flower in the Second String Quartet. Moreover, the music fully displays the composer’s natural lyricism free from any all-too-easy sentimentality.
Refereynen ende Liedekens (“Refrains and Songs”) is much lighter in mood. It actually consists of fairly straightforward but expertly made harmonisations of several old Flemish tunes. The music may remind one of Vaughan Williams in lighter vein or early Frank Bridge - his lovely Cherry Ripe. A delightful, unpretentious work of great charm, which incidentally also exists in a version for wind orchestra made in 1968 and one for wind quintet made as recently as 2002.
On the other hand, the Symphony for Strings completed in 1967 is a major work in three succinct movements packed with invention, with much stringent, athletic and virile string writing, such as may be heard in Vaughan Williams’ Partita and Concerto Grosso, or in Bridge’s late string quartets. The beautiful central Andante is another example of Van der Eyken’s unsentimental lyricism, and is framed by lively outer movements of great strength and verve, in the case of the closing Allegro.
The death of Van der Eyken’s wife in 1983 was a severe blow, and it took several months of friendly persuasion to bring him back to composing. The result is the poignant, deeply-felt Elegie voor Bieke, which he completed several months later. Again, and at the risk of repeating myself, the music is strongly expressive without any sentimentality. A great piece of music that deserves to be heard more often.
As mentioned earlier, the composer conducts most pieces played by an uncredited orchestra - probably the string section of the Flemish Radio Orchestra, but obviously a full string section of professional players - which plays superbly for the composer-conductor. Elegie voor Bieke is given a splendid, fully committed reading by the BRTN Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by that arch-champion of contemporary Flemish music, Fernand Terby.
One cannot but be grateful to smaller labels for recording and releasing music of quality such as this. It is otherwise all-too-often left gathering dust in CeBeDeM’s shelves. The total playing time is rather on the short side, but this should not deter anyone willing to explore unjustly neglected musical byways, that often provide a most rewarding musical and human experience.
Hubert Culot


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