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Julius RÖNTGEN (1855-1932)
Suite in E flat minor, Op.16 (1876) [28:08]
Norbert ROSSEAU (1907-1975)
H2O, Op.22 (1938) [13:21]
Edgar TINEL (1854-1912)
Sonata in G minor, Op.15 (1876) [33:26]
Mephisto Piano Duo
rec. December 2014, ‘Blauwe Zaal’, deSingel, Antwerp
PHAEDRA 92087 [75:15]

Music for four hands links the three works performed in this disc. Röntgen, currently enjoying a mini-explosion of recordings, is represented by a full-scale four–movement Suite of 1876, composed when he was a young man of 21 and the much less well-known Edgar Tinel by his Sonata, composed when he was just 22. Clearly youth is a binding element at work as well.

Those versed in late-Röntgen may well find something unusually sombre about the opening movement of his Suite, even though it is relatively brief. But soon there is more than a mere glimpse of his playful muse in the charming Scherzo with its catchy B section, and hints of his Brahmsian inheritance in the well-termed Intermezzo where richness of expression is paramount, and where the central section is full of urgency. The finale is the longest movement – indeed it’s almost as long as the two central movements combined. Once more contrasts are pivotal, with sinewy material giving way to limpid reflective ones. Strong contrasts thus established Röntgen is free to unleash his more skittish, impish side as well as a flair for passionate drama that locates this work securely in the echelons of the romantic suite.

Given that Tinel and Röntgen were almost exact contemporaries the former’s Sonata in G, even longer than Röntgen’s work, shares an 1876 year of composition. Tinel, who studied in Brussels, and seemed set for a career as a piano soloist, won the 1877 Prix de Rome which led to an involvement in the Flemish movement, soon to be overtaken by an abiding concern for the composition and propagation of church music. The piano sonata is a revision of a string quartet. It’s a stirring work – Tinel was an avowed Brahmsian – which includes intimations of organ-like sonorities and well as eagerly youthful vivacity and interplay. Brahms was a particular influence on the slow movement but Tinel’s own voice can be heard best in the Scherzo - extrovert, facile, rhythmically charming. The opening Largo of the longish finale promises much, though there’s something of an academic fugato to unleash, alongside fortunately quite sinewy writing and a revisitation of those stirring organ sonorities.

We jump ahead to 1938 for the last work, Norbert Rosseau’s H2O, Op.22. Rosseau was, unusually for a composer – or indeed anyone else for that matter - the son of a duo of itinerant clowns called ‘The Makos’. However they were clowns with particularly musical sets of skills – his mother had studied the piano at Ghent Conservatory and his father was a violinist. Rosseau, though born in Ghent, studied later in Rome, and also with Respighi. Injuring his hand, he abandoned thoughts of a career as a solo violinist and turned to composition. H2O was originally an orchestral work and won an award in 1939 in Liège. This symphonic poem quality carries over to its incarnation as a piece for piano, four hands as it courses through successive states evoking steam, water, and ice. Indeed the impressionism is accentuated in the piano version, whilst the harmonies are quite seductive and there is plenty of colour. Again, for all the coolness of its subject matter, it’s another passionate work and one worth getting to know. Certainly curious duos could lend an ear to it.

The Mephisto Piano Dup – Katrijn Simeons and John Gevaert – have been accorded a good recording in the Blauwe Zaal in Antwerp and their Steinway D sounds in fine estate. Good notes too. Interesting repertoire here, excitingly and sensitively played.

Jonathan Woolf



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