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Guillaume LEKEU (1870-1894)
Complete Works
rec. 1987-94
RICERCAR RIC351 [8 CDs: 9:44:00]

These recordings have all been released before. They were made in Liège between 1987 and 1994 and released by Ricercar in a boxed set. On the occasion of its reissue Jérôme Lejeune’s extensive booklet notes have been revised and expanded and the text now contains a chronological analysis of the works. The track running order doesn’t, however, reflect a chronological survey which would be, in any case, somewhat unusual. A sensible balance has been achieved.

A look at the track-listing will show some of the principal musicians that were involved in this valuable project, but it doesn’t hurt to reference the names of violinists Philippe Hirshhorn and Philippe Koch, pianists Luc Devos and Jean-Claude Vanden Eynden, Domus, Quatuor Camerata and the Liège Philharmonic directed by Pierre Bartholomée. There are, however, many others and their laudable contributions to this project should not be overlooked.

The first disc contains his most famous and oft-recorded work, the Violin Sonata in a vivid performance by Philippe Hirshhorn and Jean-Claude Vanden Eynden. It’s worth noting that Philippe Koch, who plays the smaller violin works, is another elite interpreter of this sonata. The incomplete Piano Quartet is also on CD1, played by Domus. It was one of the first of Lekeu’s works to be recorded, on Decca 78s, and makes all the more regrettable the fact that it’s a two-movement torso, and beautifully played here by Domus. The Camerata Quartet do the honours for the Méditation, full of intensity but very personal harmonies, as they do in the gravely beautiful Molto Adagio contained in the second disc. This disc offers a series of music for solo piano (Luc Devos). Despite its name the Lento doloroso, whilst sombre, isn’t laden with overmuch grief. The Theme and variations for string trio is a bigger and more comprehensive statement, wittily crafted and, in places, as near jaunty as Lekeu ever gets. The beautiful and unbuttoned Adagio molto espressivo – Lekeu liked Adagios and Andantes – for two violins and piano is played by Koch, Anne Leonardo and Devos, and this third disc also contains the extensive six-movement Beethoven-modelled String Quartet. It’s far too long for the material but has an airy quality that proves appealing.

The fourth disc presents another Wagnerian opus, the Cello Sonata with its 20-minute first movement, a heroic undertaking from Luc Dewez and Devos. The highlight is the slow movement, rapt and intensely expressive. Koch and Devos play the Andante più tosto adagio with taut command. We are also introduced to the orchestral Lekeu in the form of the Introduction symphonique aux Burgraves, a diptych replete with Wagnerianism but also some strong fugal development. The Première Étude symphonique mixes nobility with Beethovenian and Franckian influence with some indigestive results but it does have a youthfully lofty quality with brassy fugatos. The orchestral Fantasie contrapuntique sur un cramignon liégeois offers a joke or two – imitations of fiddles tuning up – but the Seconde Étude symphonique is made of sterner stuff, a powerful exploration in two sections of the characters of Hamlet and Ophelia. The latter is heard in two versions, the second of which was intended to prepare for a third part, which remained unwritten. Both these works were recorded a long time ago on LP, with the same orchestra conducted by Paul Strauss, in dedicated and excellent readings, though sonically inferior to the ones under review.

The sixth disc houses the Piano Trio which is played very well by the Arthur Grumiaux Trio (Koch, Dewez, Devos) – though I harbour a fondness for the performance of the Spiller Trio, which was rather more bristly. It also contains the very Franckian Piano Sonata – it’s rather explicitly patterned after the Prélude, choral and fugue and after the Violin Sonata probably Lekeu’s best-known work, the wonderful and affecting Adagio. The seventh disc is largely orchestral or orchestral-and-vocal. His only work for organ is the Épithalame for organ and orchestra with its imposing Franckisms but equally its moments of lyric introspection. His first piece for large choral forces was the Chant lyrique but Andromède is altogether a bigger test of his compositional arts – a two-part cantata, impressively laid out, full of rousing melancholy and quite some drama. It failed to win a prize for familiarly depressing reasons. The performances are excellent but if you can find Jacques Houtmann’s old LP recording in CD transfer it offers a valuable alternative insight.

I shouldn’t omit mention of several songs sung by Guy De Mey. Lekeu’s only concertante piece heads the last disc, Larghetto for cello and orchestra. It’s rather beautiful but it also makes one regret that unwritten Violin Concerto for his great champion Ysaÿe. If you doubted that Lekeu could write a piece for solo tuba and orchestra, doubt no longer. He did, and it’s here. It’s rather similar to the cello work, but rather more teaky and Wagnerian. The Plainte d’Andromède is the chamber version of a scene from his cantata and very effectively reduced. The Trois pièces for piano are salon-light charmers. The Trois Poèmes, sung by soprano Greta de Reyghere evoke lute songs – the last of the three includes a string quartet as well as the piano. Then there are two versions of the evocative and fresh-faced Fantaisie sur deux airs populaires angevins, one for orchestra and the original, for piano four-hands, played by Dirk Herten and Daniel Blumenthal. Some may recall the bucolic recording of this made by Armin Jordan for Erato which included a superb version of the Adagio.

Given the tragically truncated trajectory of Lekeu’s life it’s not difficult for all his music to fit in an 8-CD set, and that includes things such as the original and orchestral Angevins fantaisie and the chamber version of the Andromède scene. A review like this can only draw attention to a few details but I warmly commend this retrieval, the expanded notes, and Ricercar’s continuing devotion to Lekeu’s music.
Jonathan Woolf

Full track-listing
Violin Sonata, V64 [34:00]
Philippe Hirshhorn (violin); Jean-Calude Vanden Eynden (piano)
Piano Quartet (incomplete) V62 [23:29]
Choral for violin and piano, V44 [1:45]
Philippe Hirshhorn (violin); Luc Devos (piano)
Andantino semplice for piano, V93 [0:44]
Luc Devos (piano)
La Fenêtre de la maison paternelle, V77 [3:31]
Lucienne Van Deyck (mezzo-soprano); Luc Devos (piano)
Les Pavots, V80 [4:31]
Guy De Mey (tenor); Luc Devos (piano)
Méditation for string quartet, V48 [11:06]
Camerata Quartet

Minuet for string quartet, V49 [3:06]
Molto Adagio sempre cantata e doloroso for staring quartet, V52 [12:06]
Camerata Quartet
Adagio religioso for piano, V84 [4:24]
Tempo du Mazurka for piano, V106 [10:15]
Lento doloroso for piano, V100 [10:39]
Andante for piano, V88 [3:23]
Allegro marcato for piano, V85 [1:02]
Berceuse et Valse (pot pourri) for piano, V05 [8:06]
Andante malinconoco for piano, V91 [3:35]
Andante for piano, V86
Luc Devos (piano)
Theme and Variations for string trio, V66 [13:58]
Wlodzimierz Prominski (violin); Piotr Reichert (viola); Roman Hoffmann (cello)
Andante for piano, V87 [4:21]
Luc Devos (piano)

Adagio molto espressivo for two violins and piano, V33 [11:31]
Philippe Koch and Anne Leonardo (violins): Luc Devos (piano)
String Quartet, V60 [35:50]
Minuetto for two violins, V50 [4:17]
Philippe Koch and Anne Leonardo (violins)

Cello Sonata, V65 [42:05]
Luc Dewez (cello); Luc Devos (piano)
Andante più tosto adagio, for violin and piano, V38 [6:08]
Philippe Koch (violin); Luc Devos (piano)
Andante sostenuto for piano, four hands, V92 [7:33]
Luc Devos and Catherine Mertens (piano)
Introduction symphonique aux Burgraves, V27 21:26]
Liège Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Bartholomée

Moderato quasi largo, for piano V103 [8:50]
Luc Devos (piano)
Barberine; Prelude to Act II, v14
Étude symphonique No.1: Triumphal Song of Deliverance, for orchestra, V18 [9:17]
Liège Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Bartholomée
Quelque antique et lente danse, V81 [4:25]
Greta de Reyghere (soprano); Luc Devos (piano)
L’ombre plus dense, V79 [5:21]
Guy De Mey (tenor): Luc Devos (piano)
Fantaisie contrapuntique sur un cramignon liégeois, V23 [7:02]
Étude symphonique No.1: Part 1; Hamlet, V19 [13:19]; Ophelia, V21 [6:53]; Ophelia (2nd version), V22 [9:26]
Liège Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Bartholomée

Piano Trio, V70 [43:41]
Trio Arthur Grumiaux
Piano Sonata, V105 [20:45]
Luc Devos (piano)
Adagio for string orchestra, V13 [12:37]
Liège Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Bartholomée

Epithelium for organ and orchestra, V12 [10:56]
Bernard Foccroulle (organ), Liège Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Bartholomée
Chanson de Mai, V73 [5:44]
Guy De Mey (tenor) Luc Devos (piano)
Chant lyrique for choir and orchestra, V7 [6:18]
Namur Symphonic Choir/Liège Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Bartholomée
Andromède, V3
Dinah Bryant (soprano), Zeger Vandersteene (tenor), Philippe Huttenlocher (baritone), Jules Bastin (bass) Namur Symphonic Choir/Liège Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Bartholomée

Larghetto for cello and orchestra, V28 [9:20]
Marie Hallyneck (cello), Liège Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Bartholomée
Introduction and Adagio for tuba and orchestra, V26 [9:28]
Carl Delbart (tuba), Liège Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Bartholomée
Pleinte d’Andromède for soprano, piano and strings, V5 [7:34]
Greta de Reyghere (soprano), Luc Devos (piano), Eric Mathot (double bass), Camerata Quartet
Three Pieces for piano, V107 [9:27]
Luc Devos (piano)
Fantasy on two popular Angevin songs, V 25 [13:03]
Liège Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Bartholomée
Fantasy on two popular Angevin songs, V 25, for piano, four-hands [14:41]
Dick Herten and Daniel Blumenthal (piano)
Three Poems, V82 [12:31]
Greta de Reyghere (soprano): Luc Devos (piano): Camerata Quartet
Berceuse for piano, V94 [2:38]
Luc Devos (piano)



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