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Piet SWERTS (b. 1960)
Symphony No. 2 “Morgenrot” (2000)
Bernadette Degelin (soprano); Vlaams Radio Koor
Vlaams Radio Orkest/Bjarte Engeset
rec. live, City Theatre, Leuven, Belgium, 7 September 2000
Texts and translations included
PHAEDRA 92052 [72:21]

Swerts’ Symphony No.2 “Morgenrot” was commissioned by the Province of Flemish Brabant to mark its fifth anniversary as well as the new millennium. According to the composer’s words the symphony deals with universal themes such as life, death, music and leave-taking. The composer chose words from the Catholic Requiem mass as well as three poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. The work is thus structured into three or four parts depending on one’s appreciation of the interlude’s function. It may or may not be considered a long introduction to the final section. The symphony, however, is articulated around the central movement, an a cappella setting of Rilke’s An die Musik.

The first part consists of three settings of texts drawn from the traditional Requiem: Introitus, Kyrie and Dies Irae. The Introitus for soprano and chorus opens with an arresting orchestral gesture - a defiant glissando underpinned by pounding timpani. This gesture, albeit with tolling bells this time, also introduces the Kyrie, also shared by chorus and soprano. The Dies Irae opens with piccolo trills and rumbling basses in a tramping motion. Heavy ostinati underpin much of the music throughout, and the whole is not unlike the Dies Irae section from Britten’s War Requiem. Anguished trombone glissandi are heard in the Tuba mirum. The music then briefly pauses at Liber scriptus – again with tolling bells. A restatement of the opening launches the final section moving relentlessly towards its cataclysmic conclusion, the massive build-up being then abruptly cut short.

The beautiful, peaceful and deeply-felt setting for twelve-part unaccompanied chorus of Rilke’s marvellous poem An die Musik is the crux of the symphony. It provides contemplative meditation after the turmoil of the preceding sections: “You, language where languages end... You stranger, music. You, space of the heart that has outgrown us ...” This magnificent setting contains some of the most touching music that Swerts has ever penned. There follows a long orchestral interlude with wordless chorus. The music is often dark-hued, troubled and tonally ambiguous. A forceful central episode harks back to the troubled world of the Requiem sections. Ambiguity prevails again in the last stages of the movement.

Abschied – Ende des Herbstes is a beautiful song for soprano and orchestra - wordless female voices joining in for the coda - setting another deeply moving poem, in which fall (“Herbst”) symbolises parting.

The symphony ends with Morgenrot, a large-scale, hymnic barcarolle steadily unfolding wave-like before reaching its glowing, dazzling peroration signalling a hard-won victory.

Piet Swerts’ Second Symphony is a substantial large-scale work and is one of his most personal achievements. It is undoubtedly music into which he put much of his inner self, definitely deeply sincere and honest. It is a work of great expressive strength that the composer describes as “intimate chamber music for a hundred musicians”. Make no mistake: this is a truly great piece of beautiful and gripping music that deserves far wider exposure. All those who respond to Britten’s War Requiem will certainly find much to admire in this most moving piece, especially in such a committed reading which is actually the work’s first performance recorded live but in excellent sound. A splendid release.

Hubert Culot



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