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Jacqueline FONTYN (b. 1930)
Orchestral Works – Volume 1

Ephémères (1979)a [22:25]
Per Archi (1973)b [16:09]
Halo (1978)c [17:02]
Psalmus Tertius (1959)d [17:18]
Lucienne van Deyck (mezzo), Orchestre de la RTBF/Jean-Sébastien Béreaua; Philharmonisch Orkest van de BRTN/Fernand Terbyb; Yoko Nafae-Ceshina (harp), London Sinfonietta/Ronald Zollmanc; Albrecht Klora (baritone), Koor van de BRTN, Philarmonie van Antwerpen/Léonce Grasd
rec. no information available
AULOS 66092 [70:35]
Orchestral Works – Volume 2
Vent d’Est (1995)a [15:46]
In the Green Shade (1988)b [17:10]
Rivages Solitaires (1989, rev. 2004)c [13:20]
Goeie Hoop (1998)d [17:06]
Daniel Gruselle (accordion), Dresdner Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra/Wolfgang Hentricha; Kolja Lessing (piano)c, Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra/Peter Hirschbc; Filharmonisch Jeugdorkest van Vlaanderen/Robert Groslotd
rec. (live) Berlin, 2006 (Vent d’Est); (live) Saarbrücken, SR, 2006 (In the Green Shade, Rivages Solitaires) and Galaxy Studios, Mol, Belgium, 1999 (Goeie Hoop)
AULOS 66157 [64:13]

 

 

Piano Works
Aura (1982) [4:04]
Diurnes (2003)a [7:17]
Capriccio (1954) [5:02]
Le Gong (1980) [6:45]
Hamadryades (2004)b [11:30]
Mosaici (1964) [10:44]
Ballade (1963) [8:05]
Bulles (1980) [6:50]
Spirales (1971)c [17:52]
Robert Groslot (piano); Philippe Terseleer (piano)a; Shoko Hayashizaki, Michael Hagemann (piano duet)b: Daniel Blumenthal (piano)c
rec. Steurbaut Studios, Gent, 1982 and Galaxy Studios, Mol, 2005 (Diurnes, Hamadryades)
AULOS 66150 [78:09]
Experience Classicsonline

This review of three recently released discs provides me with a welcome opportunity to write about the music of Jacqueline Fontyn, one of the most distinguished composers of her generation. As she readily admits, she began composing from the age of 8 and has never stopped since. She had her early musical training with Ignace Bolotine at a quite early age. She studied further with the distinguished teacher and composer Marcel Quinet. She then worked in Paris with Max Deutsch who initiated her to twelve-tone composition. For several years, more or less up to 1979, she used twelve-tone technique, albeit freely and without ever adhering strictly to it. Over the years, her output expanded in some considerable measure, and her present output numbers some hundred works ranging from fairly simple, didactic piano pieces such as Bulles (1980) to opera (Virus Alert of 2002). Her output includes a large number of works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, symphonic wind ensemble as well as a lot of chamber works for all sorts of instrumental combinations. Jacqueline Fontyn also taught at the Antwerp Conservatory and at the Brussels Conservatory up to her retirement. All through her busy musical life, she received a number of awards from all over the world, such as the Oscar Espla Prize for her Psalmus Tertius and the Prix Musical International Arthur Honegger for her masterly orchestral work Quatre Sites, to mention but two. Many of her works were written to commissions from various performing artists as well as from international musical organisations such as the Koussevitzky Foundation that commissioned her piano concerto Rivages Solitaires. Her violin concerto, now known as Rêverie et Turbulence, was composed as the test piece for the finals of the 1976 Queen Elizabeth Competition. In 1993 she was made a Baroness.

Her early works roughly belong to what I used to refer to as 20th Century mainstream and the music was then still indebted to, say, Prokofiev, Honegger and Bartók. Later, she adopted some twelve-tone techniques, so never strictly so. She then painstakingly evolved a musical style of her own characterised by formal and instrumental mastery. There is also about her music a subtle poetic insight, even when adopting modern techniques, such as controlled aleatory. She always keeps her material under control, so that tightly knit musical structures go hand in hand with poetic feeling. Her best works unfold with a deep inner logic, so that the music never rambles at random, but rather unfolds towards some definite goal. The three discs under review allow for a fair appreciation of her musical progress over some fifty years: Capriccio for piano (1954) is one of her earliest acknowledged works whereas Diurnes for piano dates from 2003.

The first volume of orchestral works was originally released as Koch-Aulos 3-6472-2. It includes recordings from radio archives as well as a recording of Psalmus Tertius made and released during the LP era. Besides the fairly early prize-winning Psalmus Tertius for baritone, chorus and orchestra composed in 1959, Volume 1 includes three substantial works from her mature years. These were composed between 1973 and 1979. Ephémères for mezzo and orchestra is a beautifully poetic orchestral song-cycle to words by Robert Guiette in which the composer explores a wide range of emotions and moods. Per Archi is a transcription for large string orchestra of her Pour onze archets composed two years earlier. Although based on a twelve-tone row the music of the three movements of the work exudes remarkable freshness. It displays considerable invention but never at the expense of expressivity and communication - a constant in Fontyn’s music. Much the same can be said concerning her concerto for harp and chamber orchestra Halo, which I regard as one of her finest works.

The second volume of orchestral music rather centres on fairly recent works composed between 1988 and 1998 but also includes the 2004 revised version of the piano concerto Rivages Solitaires, originally completed in 1989. Originally conceived as a diptych, the piece was drastically revised in 2004 and is now cast in a single movement in which the music travels through different musical moods. Vent d’Est for accordion and strings, dedicated to her teacher Ignace Bolotine, is a most welcome addition to the still rather limited repertoire for accordion and orchestra. The three movements explore the hugely varied expressive range of the instrument. The music is remarkably varied, often quite demanding on the player’s part but – again – strongly communicative. This applies with equal force to the other works, although each one has its own character. The works’ titles are quite often chosen for their poetic quality, for the music is always best considered in purely abstract musical terms and is rarely programmatic as such. In the Green Shade is another good example. The name derives from the title of a painting Discourse in the Green Shade by the Chinese artist Wen Cheng-Ming (1470 – 1559) that appealed to the composer when she saw it in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. "I jotted it down because I found it poetical, and because it makes mention of my favourite colour". So, again, the music is essentially abstract with little suggestion at musical Impressionism - although there are some colouristic touches in the scoring - and with few allusions to the painting’s content. Its single-movement structure falls into four interlinked sections played without a break alternating contrasting moods by turn energetic and contemplative. The ending is a brief restatement of the opening, so that full circle is almost effortlessly achieved. Goeie Hoop was commissioned by Robert Groslot and is dedicated to the Flanders Philharmonic Youth Orchestra who performed it while touring South Africa. The title refers to the Cape of Good Hope while the titles of the five movements of the piece - the third movement is just a short Intermezzo - are drawn from Through the Eye of the Needle, a collection of poems by the South-African write Matthews Phosa. The music may be somewhat more energetic, rhythmically alert and – again – quite varied in mood but you need not look out for a political agenda. Goeie Hoop is one of Fontyn’s most colourful and readily attractive works. The music is up to her best for she is never one to write down to her players, even when composing for amateur or younger players. I attended a concert performance of the piece several years ago and these young players literally played wholeheartedly throughout. This can also be heard clearly in this recording. Unlike the first volume of orchestral music, these recordings are here released for the first time.

The third disc is entirely devoted to piano works although its odes include a work for piano duet and another for two pianos. It is probably the best possible introduction to Jacqueline Fontyn’s musical world. These works not only span her long and prolific career but also clearly display the wide-ranging variety of her output. This disc includes a set of short didactic pieces Bulles as well as often quite demanding pieces such as Capriccio - one of the early works that she still acknowledges. Also present are Aura, Le Gong, Ballade (composed as the test piece for the semi-finals of the 1964 Queen Elizabeth Competition) and the impressive Spirales for two pianos. These perfectly illustrate the composer’s stylistic progress over the years. All these pieces, but two (Diurnes and Hamadryades), have been released previously. Those for piano played by Robert Groslot were originally issued during the LP era and were later re-issued in CD format with the most welcome addition of Spirales for two pianos.

As already mentioned earlier in this review, some of these performances were recorded over a fairly long period of time. All have been neatly transferred and still sound quite well. All the recorded performances are played by musicians who have a long association with Jacqueline Fontyn. They clearly believe strongly in the music, which lends them a clear ring of authenticity.

In short, these three discs – each in its own way – provide a fair appraisal of the composer’s progress over almost fifty years. At the same time they clearly emphasise the remarkable consistency of Fontyn’s music-making. As such they may be whole-heartedly recommended to anyone with an interest in communicative and imaginative contemporary music that appeals both to the mind and to the heart.

Hubert Culot



 


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