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 Philharmonique, Liège, Belgium, June 2014

The music of Belgian composer Joseph Jongen has in the last couple of decades done pretty well when it comes to recordings. His Violin Concerto has been issued by Hyperion. The Cello Concerto was recorded by Cyprès with other orchestral works in 2003 and that label followed this up with the Piano Quartet. Last year Phaedra gave us a collection of his wind instrument chamber and his piano trios. Pavane, a label we hear too little of, added the four string quartets. The gifted pianist Diane Andersen has been a common feature among several of these discs and her Pavane survey of the solo piano music should not be overlooked. There are quite a few Jongen discs out there but I should just mention the songs with orchestra on Cyprès.

The present disc is presented in luxury small-book hard-back format of the type beloved of Harmonia Mundi. That said I do just wonder how the book will wear on and off the CD shelf. It is however of a perfect size to fit next to your other CDs and really looks the part. This Great War survey introduces us to some gorgeously scored music with many memorable coups. The style is florid and affluent. It treads a line between the impressionism of the orchestral Ravel and the late-romanticism of Franck (Psyché) and D'Indy (Jour d’été a la montagne) and does so with unfaltering confidence. In fact the sound of the four movements of the Tableaux pittoresques often takes the listener into the green luxuriance of a Herbert Howells. The Sarabande triste could easily have been a fifth movement for the Tableaux. The Suite pour alto et orchestre is in two gorgeous movements, the first of which is poignantly elegiac and thoughtful. It at times reminded me of Jongen's British contemporary, Vaughan Williams in his Pastoral Symphony. That first movement (Poème Elégiaque) is offset by a handsomely melodious Finale. The Pages Intimes are in three gem-like brief episodes. The first has the title Il était une fois and clearly harbours delicate affection for Ravel's Ma mère l'Oye (1908). Similar echoes are there for all to hear amid the cooling zephyrs of Dansez Mizelle; as they are in the Danses (tr. 2) of Tableaux. The chipper finale Le Bon Chival balances euphoria and enchantment. If you enjoy Bax's Dance in the Sunlight you will respond well to this last movement.

The performances appear to serve the music as it merits; likewise the recording quality, vivid and warm. Just once or twice I caught myself wanting a more luxurious tone to the violins but otherwise all is more than well.

The shutters are being thrown ever wider on Jongen's lifetime of achievement. Can we now look forward to hearing the Symphonie (1899), the Lalla Rookh symphonic poem (1904), the Pièce symphonique for piano and orchestra (1920s) and the Hymne à la Meuse for chorus and orchestra (1938)? I hope so.

The liner-essay is in French, English and Walloon. Full marks for a superbly illustrated and stylish documentation where imaginative design is allied with, rather than militating against, an informative briefing.

Rob Barnett
Previous review: Hubert Culot

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