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Frédéric van ROSSUM (b. 1939)
Divertimento Op.15 (1967)a [11:44]
Ricercare Festivo Op.52 (1992)b [13:49]
Epitaphe Op.25 (1972)a [12:03]
Catharsis Op.42 (1982)c [14:44]
Sinfonietta Op.7 (1963)a [16:35]
Choeur de Chambre de Bruxellesb; Muhiddin D. Demiriz, Eugène Galand (pianos)c ; Ensemble Orchestral de Bruxellesa/Jacques Vanherentals
rec. no details given but probably 2005
PAVANE ADW7499 [68:53]
Experience Classicsonline

Some of you may remember that I have reviewed a handful of discs devoted to Van Rossum’s music (violin concertos on Cypres & piano works performed by the composer on Rene Gailly). In the meantime, most of them have simply disappeared from the catalogue, thus leaving the whole field to this fairly recent (2005/6) release from Pavane. The orchestral works have been commercially released many years ago during the LP era whereas neither Ricercare Festivo nor Catharsis have ever appeared in commercial recordings, which makes this release the more welcome.
Van Rossum’s Sinfonietta Op.7 is an important milestone in the then young composer’s career in that it was his first commission ever. The first performance by the Orchestre de Chambre de la RTB conducted by Edgard Doneux was a frank success and the work was quickly recorded on a now long-deleted Alpha LP. The work is scored for chamber orchestra and is in three movements, of which the central Adagio is the weightiest. It is framed by two livelier movements, the opening Allegro functioning as a prelude of sorts alternating two highly contrasted themes and the concluding Allegro brioso being a lively Rondo. The piece as a whole is already typical of the composer’s highly personal language with many rhythmic gestures and melodic phrases that make Van Rossum’s music immediately recognisable. The outer movements received an appropriately sparkling rendering here whereas the beautiful lyricism of the Adagio has just the right measure of emotion.
The Divertimento Op.15 for string orchestra is another fine example of early Van Rossum. The emotional weight lies again in the central movement Andante and Adagio (particularly in the latter) whereas the outer movements round off the piece with lively rhythms and tunes. Both the Sinfonietta Op.7 and the Divertimento Op.15 may still display a number of Neo-classical features but the music is already very much Van Rossum’s own.
Van Rossum composed his Epitaphe Op.25 in homage to his grandfather, the painter Léon Spilliaerts - a painting of his adorns the cover of this disc. By the time he composed this, the composer had found his own voice and the music is clearly more advanced although it remains accessible.
Catharsis Op.42 for two pianos was commissioned by IBM Belgium. Dominique Cornil and the composer, who gave the first performance, recorded it on a privately released LP (once available directly from IBM Belgium) devoted to Belgian keyboard music, although Side 1 was devoted to keyboard music by Flemish composers of the Renaissance whereas Side 2 included works by Jongen, Pousseur and van Rossum’s Catharsis. “Catharsis” means purification in Greek; but Aristotle gave it a figurative meaning of “liberation of violent impulses”; and that is what actually fired the composer’s imagination. Catharsis Op.42 is a rather violent and, at times, brutal work although it opens in the bass register and ends with a final rumble in the bass. In between, however, the composer explores the whole expressive range of the two pianos in a series of highly contrasted episodes in which calmer sections often function as springboards for further dense and restless activity. Catharsis Op.42 is a virtuosic work conceived in almost symphonic terms that cannot fail to impress.
The most recent work here, although it was composed some seventeen years ago, was commissioned to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Liège University and its first performance was given by the Liège University Choir. Ricercare Festivo Op.52 is a richly contrapuntal setting of words from the Ecclesiastes and the Proverbs as “an ode to wisdom as the source of life, strength, joy and hope” (Michel Stockem). This impressive and strongly expressive work is also a heartfelt homage to the Renaissance polyphonic tradition remarkably rendered in 20th century idiom. The music sometimes unfolds in twenty-four autonomous parts creating some intricate counterpoint and the most remarkable thing about it is that the composer was not afraid of putting some considerable challenge on his often amateur performers. I did not have the opportunity to hear the first performance of the piece but I may say that the Brussels Chamber Choir rises remarkably up to Van Rossum’s often complex counterpoint.
As already mentioned earlier in this review, this is the only available disc devoted to Van Rossum’s vital, emotionally charged and often beautiful music that is now shamefully neglected by concert organisations and record companies as well. Since he completed the most recent work here (Ricercare Festivo of 1992), Van Rossum composed a good deal of pieces nearing now the Op.90 mark. A few weeks ago I was able to attend a performance of his Cello Sonata Op.88 about which nothing was mentioned in the programme notes. It is to be hoped that this excellently played and recorded release will trigger some interest in Van Rossum’s music that definitely deserves wider exposure. Some important works of his, such as the imposing Amnesty Symphony Op.38 (1979/80 – soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra) or Polyptique Op.46 (1988 – orchestra) are still crying out for recording.
We must, however, be thankful to Pavane for having taken a step in the right direction; and I hope that others will follow suit.
Hubert Culot


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