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Jan van GILSE (1881-1944)
Piano Concerto Drei Tanzskizzen (1927) [41:46]
Variations on a St-Nicholas Song (1909) [21:37]
Oliver Triendl (piano)
Netherlands Symphony Orchestra/David Porcelijn
rec. May 2014, Enschede, Music Centre
CPO 777 934-2 [63:26]

You’ll find a great deal of biographical information about Dutch composer Jan van Gilse in CPO’s booklet note but nothing at all about the two works presented in this disc, a strange and frustrating state of affairs. He began studies in his native Rotterdam, continuing in Cologne, ending up in Berlin where his teacher was Engelbert Humperdinck. It was in Berlin that van Gilse began work on his Second Symphony – which, incidentally, can be found in CPO’s recordings of all four symphonies (review ~ review). His career as a conductor in Utrecht foundered – he was sharply criticised by Willem Pijper, amongst others – and a German career came to nothing as a result of the rise of National Socialism. A member of the Dutch artistic resistance, he constantly kept on the move under an assumed name. His two sons were active in the underground fight against the Nazis. Both were killed. He barely survived them, dying of cancer in September 1944.

His music is pretty much unknown, and it’s largely due to CPO that it is heard on disc at all. The Piano Concerto of 1927, subtitled Der Tanzskizzen is a strange beast with its three movements headed ‘Tempo di Menuetto moderato’, Hommage ā Johann Strauss, and ‘Quasi Jazz’. It’s lightly scored and rather charming, (Richard) Straussian both in rhythm and harmony in places. It’s by no means a conventional Piano Concerto as the solo instrument is sometimes a concertante performer but more often an obbligatist or acting as a colouring agent, adding deft commentaries rather than spearheading the musical argument. This, as should be clear by now, is relatively slight but couched in so attractive a manner to make critical judgement largely irrelevant. It reminds me somewhat of Röntgen’s music in its backward-looking aesthetic, its easy lyricism and unforced honesty of expression. That said, it would be a flinty-hearted individual who could resist the café band blandishments of sections of the central movement, or the Hot Dance figures of the finale. This touches on light dance, even tango figures and includes an unexpected solo violin cadenza. Don’t be too taken in by this finale’s ‘Quasi Jazz’ subtitle: this is not Schulhoff or Milhaud.

The companion work is the shorter but less sonically titillating Variations on a Saint-Nicholas Song. This seems to want to be a light-hearted version of Brahms’s St Antony Chorale as the orchestration is decidedly thicker than in the case of the Concerto. Much here is lyrical and warm but little is truly memorable. The extremely soft dynamics in one of the variations is noteworthy, and some of the themes themselves are diverting, but the Concerto remains the primary focus of attention.

That hard-working and stylistically apt practitioner Oliver Triendl once again makes his mark on disc in the Concerto, abetted by a sympathetic and excellent recording and attractive orchestral contributions. Conductor David Porcelijn clearly has the measure of both works.
Jonathan Woolf



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