This fascinating and beautiful disc presents the entire compositional output of a now little-known Belgian musician whose life, like so many others, was tragically cut short in action early in World War I. Details of his life and brief career are outlined in a very nicely produced booklet full of photos and illustrations, and including the song texts in French and with English translations. The booklet is too big to fit in a conventional jewel case, so is included within a box which contains both.
The piano works are written in a late-Romantic style, but display an intriguing ear for sonority in some remarkable passages within the Grave et poignant
. Impressionist style is a strong feature, but brusque virtuosity in the Fuga Libera
shakes off any ideas of vague harmonic meandering. “There is no moment when the young composer finds mental rest” is a sentence which jumps out from Hannelore Devaere’s descriptive notes on the piano works, and the Sonata in E minor
is a vibrantly inventive piece which shifts restlessly as the composer wrestles with expressive language, style and structure through a variety of Romantic models – seeking but not quite finding an entirely personal voice.
The Songs Op.1
take their texts from Romantic French poets and are fairly classical in style, though the influence of Ravel and Debussy was clearly filtering in through from Devaere’s own experiences as an accompanist. Whiffs of these more daring harmonic explorations can be heard in the only song for baritone, Prière
, but as with the other soprano songs never remains long in too difficult a terrain. Deeply expressive writing does however show a sensitive response to the poetry, and The bitter flute of Autumn…
by Hérold generates a little masterpiece.
The intimate world of the songs and the searching of the piano solo pieces is blown away by the organ works at the end of the programme. The Preludium and Fugue
is an impressively confident statement, using the vehicle of conventional form to create something grand in scale and unmistakably purposeful. Also in prelude and fugue form, Les Bourdons de Notre Dame de Courtrai
goes further beyond academic exercise, introducing elements which are emblematic of the memory of Devaere’s composition teacher Edgar Tinel, and exploring external references such as the great bells of the local church. André’s father had been principal organist at the Sint-Maartenskerk in Kortrijk, and the composer was therefore well acquainted with the organ. This is one of the pieces which show most how much originality of thought Devaere was developing, and is a work which has been recognised as deserving of a place in the Romantic Flemish organ repertoire.
This is a very well recorded and performed CD, and a very worthwhile document preserving the work of a composer standing on the brink of what would have been a significant and no doubt distinguished career as a composer and performer. The organ recordings are stunning, and the piano recordings are also very good indeed. Hilde Coppé’s soprano voice is well suited to the sensitive nature of Devaere’s songs, through perhaps balanced a fraction too distantly in comparison to the piano. Such a unique venture wholeheartedly deserves investigation and support.