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Johan DUIJCK (b. 1954)
Alma de la Música Op.16 (1996)a [40:37]
Cantar del Alma Op.24 (2004)b [19:53]
Alma, búscate en Mí Op.25 (2005)c [9:40]
Hilde Coppé (soprano)a; Noëlle Schepens (alto)b; Hans Ryckelynck (piano)b; Ignace Michiels (organ)c; Gents Madrigaalkoorac; Vlaams Radio Koorab; Collegium Instrumentale Brugensea; Johan Duijck
rec. Sint-Franciscuskerk, Sint-Kruis-Brugge, 9-11 March 2007 (Alma de la Música); Studio Dada, Brussels, 2 March 2007 (Cantar del Alma) and Sint-Salvatorskathedraal, Brugge, 22 April 2007 (Ama, búscate en Mí)
Texts and translations
PHAEDRA 92054 [70:12]
Experience Classicsonline

Johan Duijck is a very versatile musician: choir director, teacher, pianist as well as composer, although his composing activity burgeoned fairly late. Though they may not have been planned as such, the three works recorded here form a choral triptych setting texts by three important mystical poets from the Golden Age of the Spanish Renaissance: Fray Luis de León in Alma de la Música Op.16, Saint John of the Cross in Cantar del Alma Op.24 and St Teresa of Avila in Alma, búscate en Mí Op.25.

Fray Luis de León’s text of Alma de la Música Op.16 for soprano, chorus and orchestra completed in 1996 was inspired by the organ playing of Francisco Salinas, organist of Salamanca Cathedral and a friend of the poet. The poem sings Salinas’ praise but also expresses the mystical experience suggested by the blind organist’s playing. The eleven sections of the work roughly follow the order of the poem’s stanzas, whereas the music reflects the various moods suggested by the words, which results in varied and contrasted settings. The fifth section in praise of Salinas’ playing builds to a first climax  at the words “produce el son sagrado” (“producing the sacred sound”). The next section (“Y come está compuesta” possesses a fugal character which may remind one of Britten (the fugal sections in Hymn to St. Cecilia Op.27) but ends with a more reflective coda. The next section opens almost as a song for soprano and piano, but women’s voices and strings join in later. The finale is preceded by a beautiful a cappella setting of the words “que todo lo demás es triste lloro” (“for all the rest is misery”). The orchestra joins in at a later stage, mild dissonance emphasising these words. The concluding section implores Salinas to continue playing “so that all my senses are opened to this heavenly gift and reject the rest”. The soprano returns with a restatement of a phrase that has been heard repeatedly as a refrain, and the work ends peacefully.

Cantar del Alma Op.24 for alto, chorus and piano opens with a short recitative by the soloist. The music then unfolds in several differentiated sections linked both by the refrain “Aunque es de noche” (“although it is night”) and by an short phrase played by the piano, that almost graphically evokes streams (“aquella eterna fonte está escondida”). For all the variety of musical setting - the second section is set as an aria for alto and piano - the whole work is mostly meditative, which does not exclude a more animated section evoking rushing streams.

The third panel of the triptych, Alma, búscate en Mí Op.25 on words by St Teresa of Avila, is a somewhat shorter setting for mixed chorus and organ, in which the dialogue between God and the soul is represented by a colloquy of women’s voices with men’s voices. In the last stanza, the voice of God is heard spoken over wordless chorus and organ. The work ends with a restatement of the second stanza.

As already mentioned earlier in this review, Johan Duijck was and still is well known as a choir director; and his vocal writing has obviously gained much from his conducting activity. He writes idiomatically and gratefully for voices. His way with the notes always sits comfortably for voices, although it is not always as simple as one might think. It certainly has its intricate moments, posing problems of intonation and of articulation, all supremely mastered here. Another remarkable characteristic common to these three works is the way with which the composer succeeds in bringing formal and structural coherence in his settings of texts that might have prompted a more episodic musical setting. Duijck achieves unity in diversity by his use of recurring themes and motives. Finally, he eschews any temptation to write music with all-too-obvious Spanish inflections. All his settings possess a refreshing timelessness thus emphasising the universality of the texts.

Excellent performances throughout and the recordings, made in different venues, are all warmly natural. In short, a really very fine release of superbly made, eminently singable and often quite beautiful choral music.

Hubert Culot 



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