Alphons DIEPENBROCK (1862–1921) Orchestral Songs
Hymne voor orkest [14:15]
Hymne an die Nacht [15:40]
Der König in Thule [4:56]
Es war ein alter König [2:25]
Im grossen Schweigen [22:32]
En sourdine [4:36]
Hans Christoph Begemann (baritone)
Sinfonieorchester St. Gallen/Otto Tausk
rec. Tonhalle St. Gallen, 2013.
Sung texts with English translations enclosed. CPO 777 836-2 [64:48]
Alphons Diepenbrock, though regarded as one of the foremost Dutch composers around the turn of the last century, never studied music professionally. He was a classics scholar and taught Greek and Latin. He read as much he could on music theory and went to concerts at the Concertgebouw. In 1895 his friend Willem Mengelberg became conductor of the orchestra and he often included music by Diepenbrock, who quite often was allowed to conduct his own works. Among his other friends was Gustav Mahler and he also saw Richard Strauss. The lion’s share of his oeuvre is vocal music and his choice of texts focuses on the great names: Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg), Goethe, Nietzsche and, somewhat surprising perhaps, Verlaine.
The works presented here are all highly evocative and reveal a skilled and sensitive orchestrator. These songs are not really songs with orchestral accompaniment but in several cases, as Leo Samama puts it in his notes, “symphonic poems with obbligato voice”. It is the orchestra alone we encounter in the first piece on this disc, Hymne voor orchest. It is the first orchestration of a Hymne for violin and piano from 1898 and here Diepenbrock has all the violins playing the solo part in unison. The high sweet violins are something that at once makes an imprint on the listener. The orchestration is late-romantic, rich and plush and one wallows in a sea of colours, fragrances and melodies. Influences? Well, no man is an island and Diepenbrock had assimilated a lot during his many visits to the Concertgebouw: Wagner is there (Rheingold), César Franck and why not Chausson. Much less of Mahler and Strauss but we shouldn’t forget Diepenbrock – he has his own personality woven into the orchestral fabric.
When the human voice is added to this fabric it brings yet another colour to the sound. The Hymnen an die Nacht is Novalis’s first published work and also his most famous. It’s a collection of prose poems and a tribute to the night. The second hymn, begins: "Must morning always return? Will the power of the mundane never cease? Unholy bustle consumes the celestial flight of Night …" Embedded in the lush orchestra these words make a great impression and one is caught just as much by the surrounding music as by the solo part. It is sensitively sung by the admirable Hans Christoph Begemann, but since it was composed for alto and orchestra I would have liked to hear it with the intended female voice. It is available in the original on a Chandos all-Diepenbrock two-disc set with Linda Finnie as the soloist, and also on an 8-cd set issued by Etcetera (KTC1435) three years ago to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the composer.
Then there are two short – or normal-long – songs that could be eye-openers for those as yet unfamiliar with the composer. The setting of Goethe’s Der König in Thule was composed in the summer of 1886 when Diepenbrock was 24. He revised it three years later and orchestrated it in 1907, obviously since he felt the piano accompaniment was too orchestral. It is a catchy melody and the Wagnerian influence can’t be denied. Also the Heine setting Es war ein alter König derives its origin from his relative youth, 1890, but it was also revised several years later. It is just as beautiful as the Goethe setting with a simple folksong-like melody. It was quite popular, and a critic wrote after a performance in 1905: “The composer is a musical genius of the very first order, and will in the future certainly be recognized as such by the whole world.” That prophecy was no doubt over-optimistic, but I can understand the critic’s enthusiasm and maybe the song can regain its popularity through this recording 110 years after the prophecy. It should be added that the arrangement for chamber orchestra was made in 1954 by Hendrik Andriessen (1892–1981) who had met Diepenbrock and was very fond of his music.
The long Nietzsche setting, Im grossen Schweigen from Morgenröthe is a remarkable composition. When his mother died in 1904 he had a long crisis when he wasn’t able to compose at all but in the autumn the following year he regained his powers and created what may be regarded as his masterpiece. I have returned to it a couple of times and I can’t say that I have digested it altogether, the main obstacle being the long and philosophical prose text. It has been criticized before: Morgenröthe - Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurtheile, (Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality) was written in 1881. In Im grossen Schweigen (In the great silence) the silence of nature and, here in particular, the sea symbolizes the imperfection of human speech. “It is better to remain silent instead of telling lies.” The narrator walks from the city towards the sea, where he is surrounded by silence and solitude. We hear the hymn Ave maris stella (Hail, Star of the Sea) and step by step the narrator is so influenced that he cries out: ”I begin to hate speech; to hate even thought”. The final part of the text is also worth quoting: “O sea, O evening; you are poor teachers! You teach man to cease being human. Should he yield to you? Shall he become as you are now, pale, gleaming, silent, vast, reposing calmly upon yourself? Exalted above yourself!” The narrator stops singing since man remains silent, only the sea is there in front of his eyes and Ave maris stella sounds again. It is a fascinating composition, truly gripping. Hans Christoph Begemann gives a strong reading of the vocal part. What fascinates most is however the flexible symphonic music. Here we find both Strauss and in particular Mahler influences.
The concluding song, En sourdine¸ is also very special. It is a tribute to Claude Debussy, whose music Diepenbrock had felt alien to, but now in 1910 he wrote this song in three days and modelled it on Debussy’s setting of the same poem by Paul Verlaine. Debussy’s spirit hovers over the slightly diffuse, impressionist sound-world where we, towards the end, hear in the orchestra an echo of the nightingale: Voix de notre désespoir, Le rossignol chantera.
Excellent soloist, an orchestra that was previously unknown to me, but with a history back to the 1850s, and giving committed readings of music that probably isn’t everyday fare for them. The recording leaves nothing more to be desired and documentation is first class. In other words: everything is up to CPO’s usual best standard.
A final confession: a lot of the discs I have reviewed through the years have never been, and probably never will be, played again. This fascinating programme certainly will, and if you’ll excuse me, I’m now going back to my listening room to play it again.