Phaedra’s ‘In Flanders’ Fields’ series
has been progressing quietly but decisively over the last few years to such an extent that we have now reached volume 85. If the marque suggests a First World theme – the words are the opening of John McCrae’s famous poem - that is misleading, as the series is devoted to Belgian music of the nineteenth and century centuries. This isn’t the first volume to salute Joseph Jongen, whose music is unaccountably overlooked these days, as he is a major figure who is represented well elsewhere in the series. Volume 49, for instance, was devoted to his piano music, coupling it with that of the younger Georges Lonque, though you can find more piano music and some wind sonatas scattered elsewhere.
This current volume is largely an all-woodwind one and proves as addictive as Jongen usually is. The Rhapsodie
of 1922 for woodwind quintet and piano – Jongen’s instrument though he was perhaps better known as an organist - opens with a slow, diaphanous section followed by a sea-tossing rhythmic wave mightily suggestive of Ravel. The Habanera that follows is imbued with great vigour, and the piping clarinet and rippling piano – which bears quite a technical burden - are full of graceful fluency. The confidence of the structure, with its obvious sections but unobvious transitions, is matched by the music’s warmth, rhythmic resilience, and brio. The Lied for horn and piano was composed in 1899 but not published until 1960. As Paul Raspé comments in his fine booklet notes, it sounds like a competition piece, taut but structured with hints of a barcarolle about it. The Mélodie
for cor anglais and piano exists in two versions, the other being for solo instrument and orchestral forces. It’s a delicious romantic reverie, whichever version one gets to hear, with typically long Jongen lines and enough harmonic interest in the accompaniment to keep things alert and interesting. The Deux Pièces
weren’t published in Paris or Brussels but in Ohio, for some reason. The first of the pieces is deliciously lyric, to which the ensemble 5 Beaufort responds with great warmth, whilst the second pulsates with ebullient dances in three clear sections, complete with imitative passages, too. Written a decade earlier, the Danse lente
is typically long-breathed and touchingly beautiful. Jongen was nearing 70 when he wrote the Concerto for woodwind quintet. There are five genuine soloists in this single-span work though, as in the case of the Rhapsodie
, it clearly divides into sections. It enshrines some rich sonorities and makes for a genuinely attractive close.
The ensemble catch Jongen’s lyric generosity but also his extrovert qualities very well and prove laudable guides throughout - not to forget Hans Ryckelynck, who has already recorded solo Jongen in this series, and offers authoritative support.
The recording was made in Kapel Scholengroep Sint-Rembert Torhout, which means there’s a touch of echo, and I suspect that the engineers have compensated by bringing the instruments forward to counterbalance it. The result is certainly not unattractive though the dynamics could have been conveyed a touch more naturally. It hardly matters though given the excellence of the performances.