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Jan van GILSE (1881-1944)
Symphony No. 3 in D minor, Erhebung for soprano and orchestra (1903) [63:00]
Aile Asszonyi (soprano)
Netherlands Symphony Orchestra/David Porcelijn
rec. Enschede Muziekzentrum, 7-10 July 2009. DDD
CPO 7775182 [63:00]

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Jan van GILSE (1881-1944)
Symphony No. 4 in A major (1910-1915) [41:08]
Treurmuziek bij den dood van Uilenspiegel (Funeral Music on the Death of Uilenspiegel) from the opera Thijl (1944) [11:05]
Concert Overture in C minor (1902) [10:14]
Netherlands Symphony Orchestra/David Porcelijn
rec. Enschede Muziekzentrum, 23-28 August 2010. DDD
CPO 7776892 [62:33]
Experience Classicsonline

This Dutch composer and conductor showed musical gifts early on. His teaching took place in Germany with Franz Wüllner and then Engelbert Humperdinck. Conducting took up much of his time but, ever the controversialist, he crossed swords with Dutch composer and music journalist Willem Pijper and was worsted in the confrontation. Like another thrawn character, the Swedish symphonist Kurt Atterberg, Van Gilse took a prominent role in the protection of musicians’ copyright. During the German Occupation his two Resistance-fighter sons were killed. Van Gilse himself died of pneumonia while in hiding from the Nazis.
His opera Thijl (1940) is reckoned in some quarters to be his masterpiece and is said to occupy pole position in the history of Dutch opera. One source has it that the very same David Porcelijn - also a champion on radio of English composer John Veale - is recording Thijl. This is good news although there appears to be an earlier analogue recording (CD6254) from the 1980 Scheveningen Festival where the conductor is Anton Kersjes who in 1982 broadcast Bernard Van Dieren’s Chinese Symphony - now there’s a project. Porcelijn conducts CPO’s cycle of the Van Gilse symphonies. His CPO disc of the first two symphonies is reviewed here.
His Third Symphony is in five lanky movements and runs to Mahlerian proportions. While not as superheated as the glorious Bruno Walter First Symphony or Siegmund von Hausegger’s Natursymphonie - two other Cinderellas, superbly recorded by CPO - this is still a potently epic symphony. The music occupies a country to which Richard Strauss and Anton Bruckner had already laid claim. The music is moodily ambiguous - elegiac and disillusioned yet tormentedly passionate and torridly grand. Aile Asszonyi’s operatically full-on singing in movements three and five does nothing to cool the temperature - love and the sun vanquish all. The fourth movement speaks of Strauss’s Don Juan and early Mahler at his most swayingly ebullient. The long (20+ minutes) finale’s confident late-romantic serenity is wonderfully sustained and convincing - another Mahler Ewig or a rapturous pre-echo of Strauss’s Four Last Songs. I had thought, on a couple of occasions during the first two movements, that things could have gone with more fluency from time to time but no such doubts obtrude here or elsewhere. Asszonyi is a singer to be reckoned with and so is this extended love poem of a Symphony. Its title is Erhebung which is translated as ‘elevation’. Having heard the music its essence is closer to heightened emotion.
The Fourth Symphony is shorter but still consists of four movements across some 41 minutes. The first of these is nicely rounded. It’s a little reminiscent of Mahler: dancing and irrepressibly chipper but also lit by some lambent string writing. The Straussian glow is very much to the fore in the second movement alongside pastoral musings. The transition into the religiously pensive Langsam (III) is smooth. This ends with Rosenkavalier delicacy. A rapturous finale, at first replete with swashbuckling fanfares, reminded me of Korngold but it is not long before Van Gilse feels the magnetic pull of those lush strings, delicate harp silverpoints and chamber texture musings. Mind you, he also makes discreet use of castanets and tambourine to ring the changes.
The Treurmuziek bij den dood van Uilenspiegel combines searing elegy with tragic funeral cortege. It’s a fine and impressively memorable mood combination and plays directly to Van Gilse’s strengths and aptitude. We note in passing that the theme of the opera coincides with that of his exemplar, Strauss’s tone poem. It’s stunning - the perfect balance of mood, idea and duration.
The Concert Overture in C minor is his first orchestral work. It was premièred in Cologne in 1900 and heard four more times that year before neglect engulfed it. It is more Brahmsian and therefore closer in style to his own First Symphony. It’s a smoothly turned effort with the odd stormy touch of Schumann and Bruckner to keep everyone on their toes. Otherwise it’s quite conventional.
We can surely hope for recordings of more Van Gilse. Quite apart from Thijl there are two other operas, a fragment of a Fifth Symphony and various works for voice(s) and orchestra: Sulamith (1901-02), Eine Lebensmesse (1903-04), Gitanjali Songs and Der Kreis des Lebens, cantata (1928-1929) 

I said of the first two symphonies that they were ‘treasurably satisfying’. That also applies here. On this evidence Van Gilse has a penchant for glowing radiance; drama comes to him more fitfully. This may be his weakness but for the listener in the right mood that is also his shining strength.
Rob Barnett

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