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Joseph JONGEN (1873 – 1953)
Tableaux pittoresques Op.56 (1917) [26:53]
Sarabande triste Op.58 (1918) [4:58]
Suite pour alto et orchestre Op.48 (1915) [21:42]
Pages intimes Op.55 (1917) [8:55]
Nathan Braude (viola)
Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège/Jean-Pierre Haeck
rec. Salle philharmonqiue, Liège, Belgium, 2014

At the outbreak of World War I Joseph Jongen and his family left Belgium and settled in England, first in London and later in Bournemouth. At first this move proved a paralysing situation for the composer. He did not compose anything for practically one year although he had remained active by founding and playing in the Belgian Trio and later by forming the Belgian Quartet with Désiré Defauw (violin), Lionel Tertis (viola) and Emile Doehard (cello). They played a number of French works and some of Jongen's music which Tertis apparently admired. When Jongen picked up his pen again the first work he completed was the Suite Op.48 written for Tertis. The composer sent the score to Beecham for some hypothetical performance but for whatever reason Tertis never played the piece which was eventually first performed by the French violist Maurice Vieux to whom the work was then dedicated. It falls into two parts of equal length: Poème élégiaque whose music sometimes brings Vaughan Williams to mind and Finale — a fairly typical Jongen dancing finale. This is a very fine piece indeed that has already been recorded at least twice, first during the LP era by Musique en Wallonie and more recently by the present soloist on Fuga Libera FUG586. The latter gathered all of Jongen's works for viola albeit in their viola and piano guise. Though quite satisfying in itself, the chamber version is no match for the brilliantly and colourfully scored orchestral version heard here.

The writing of the Suite Op.48 had a liberating impact on Jongen's creativity. From then on the composer again composed regularly and abundantly as the other works recorded here confirm. Pages intimes Op.55, originally for piano duet in 1915, was orchestrated in 1921. These simple, light-hearted pieces, dedicated to the composer's children, pleasingly evoke the magical world of children (Il était une fois), their rêverie (Dansez Mîzelle) and their games (Le Bon Chîval). A lovely work.

Tableaux pittoresques Op.56 for chamber orchestra followed quite quickly. Though it is a more substantial work the music inhabits Jongen's highly personal sound-world and is characterised more often than not by warmly melodic turns of phrase and superb orchestration. This is all the more remarkable in that the piece was initially scored for chamber orchestra although the present performance seems suggest larger orchestral forces ... or is it only a matter of the recording? The first movement Le matin dans la campagne (“Morning in the Country”) is appropriately atmospheric and pastoral. In total contrast the second movement simply entitled Dances is, surprisingly enough, rather more developed in that it almost amounts to a short suite within the suite. The third movement Paysage de montagnes is more straightforward whereas the last movement Fête populaire is a village dance of sorts. That is so often the case with Jongen's finales. Jongen's brother Léon (1884 – 1969), who was also a composer, acting as an agent for his brother presented the score to Gabriel Pierné who conducted the first performance in Paris in 1918 while Jongen was still in England.
In general Sarabande triste Op.58 is better known by pianists but the piece was immediately scored for small orchestra in 1918 after its completion. This short elegiac piece is moving in its simplicity and deserves to be well-known.

Joseph Jongen's music is pretty well represented in the CD catalogue but still has to make it into concert halls. Discs such as this one are most welcome for they add to our scope for appraisal of this most distinguished composer's generous output.

This release from Musique en Wallonie — as well as the one with chamber works by Georges Antoine, to be reviewed shortly — is apparently part of what I hope will be a continuing series under the title, Collection 14-18. I am rather interested to hear what this series may yield.

In the meantime, this well-played and well-recorded disc should appeal to anyone with a liking for Jongen's superbly crafted music. I must also mention that there is a lavishly illustrated booklet. There are several nice photographs of Jongen with the Belgian Trio, the Belgian Quartet and with his brother Léon in uniform at the time — incidentally their only meeting during the whole war. Christophe Pirenne has written the well-informed insert notes.

Hubert Culot