August de Boeck's music is reasonably well known in Belgium
and abroad. His Symphony in G that has been regularly recorded
but many sides of his sizeable output are still too little known.
Phaedra have already released a couple of discs devoted to his
music including some of his many songs and piano music. The
present release offers a generous glimpse of de Boeck's orchestral
He composed five operas, the first one being Théroigne
de Méricourt completed in 1900. The heroin of
the opera is a historical character from the 18th
century who after leaving her native village of Marcourt in
the Belgian Ardennes eventually ended up playing an important
role in the French Revolution. The orchestral prelude to the
opera is a fairly peaceful, nicely scored piece of music with
apparently no hint whatsoever of Théroigne's later fate.
The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was composed
between 1926 and 1929. The original version was actually for
Hans Piano and orchestra which calls for a bit of explanation.
Pierre Hans, an amateur pianist with abnormally thick fingers,
was looking for a way to continue playing the piano. Being an
engineer he contacted the French firm Pleyel and together they
devised a concert grand with two keyboards, of which the upper
one was tuned a half tone higher than the lower. Several composers,
Hans included, composed concertos for the instrument and a number
of these were performed by the Antwerp pianist Maria Van Dommelen.
She worked out the solo part in de Boeck's concerto but she
obviously left a “sloppy and incomplete manuscript”
(Jozef de Beenhouwer) which made a reconstruction near impossible.
Thus, at the request of the Flemish composer Frits Celis, Jozef
de Beenhouwer arranged the piano part for 'normal' concert grand
and that is what we hear here. The concerto is in three movements
played without a break with - surprisingly enough - no slow
movement. The opening Moderato bridges into a Scherzo in turn
moving to the final dance-like Allegro. The music is rather
pleasant although it sometimes brings other piano concertos
to mind such as Tchaikovsky's First and Grieg's. The whole is
neatly put together and the resulting work is an attractive
rarity, though by no means one of de Boeck's greatest works.
La Route d'Émeraude is de Boeck's fifth and last
opera and, judging by the substantial suite recorded here, one
of the peaks of his output. It was originally written to a libretto
in French based on the eponymous novel by the French-speaking
Flemish writer Eugène Demolder, the librettist being
Max Hautier. Later it was performed in a Flemish version entitled
Francesca by the composer August L. Baeyens, a
much underrated composer by the way. Hautier titled the four
acts as Calling, Love, Suffering and Redemption
which perfectly reflect the main story that takes place around
1650 in Holland, near Dordrecht and in Amsterdam. The four acts
have the hero Kobus Barent going to Amsterdam in an attempt
to work with the painter Frans Krul, a friend of Rembrandt.
In Amsterdam, too, he falls in love with a Spanish model Francesca.
However, she leaves him and goes back to Spain with the Spanish
pirate Barbéra. Kobus wanders aimlessly about Amsterdam
and ends up stumbling into a church. The soothing hymns gradually
calm him down and he then decides to go back to his parents'
home. Kobus's father eventually forgives him while his mother
sings a lullaby that she sang to him when a child. There is
certainly more in the opera than this succinct overview may
hint at. The libretto and its multifold subject matter obviously
fired de Boeck's imagination who delivered what is certainly
one of his richest and finest scores in terms of melodic and
harmonic invention. The music is in turn dreamy, tender, despairing
and impassioned sometimes bringing Richard Strauss's opulence
to mind. Listening to the substantial suite brilliantly arranged
by Frits Celis one would certainly like to hear the opera in
full some day. I am sure that it would be a real winner even
if the libretto, be it in French or in Dutch, is likely to sound
slightly dated. Incidentally I must admit to having heavily
plundered Frits Celis' detailed and well informed notes about
As far as I can judge, these performances of works that must
have been rather unfamiliar to the orchestra are just superb.
They are also vividly recorded in most natural acoustics. De
Boeck's music undoubtedly deserves to be better known both locally
and abroad. This generously filled release should help. I cannot
but commend it heartily for the quality of the music and for
the excellent playing.