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Bernard van DIEREN (1887-1936)
Symphony No.1, op.6 Chinese (1914) [40:25]
Introit to Topers’ Tropes ‘Les Propos des Beuveurs’ after Rabelais (1921) [13:17]
Elegie für orchester mit violoncello principale (c.1908-10) [15:39]
Rebecca Evans (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (alto), Nathan Vale (tenor), Morgan Pearse (baritone), David Soar (bass), Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales/William Boughton
rec. 20-22 April 2016, Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff.
German texts and English translations included
LYRITA SRCD357 [69:21]

Lyrita have done much to champion the music of lesser known British composers, opening the door to vast swathes of neglected repertoire. Issuing newly recorded performances, of which this is one, in state-of-the-art sound, has been their trademark. Since 2014, this catalogue has been supplemented by the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust’s transfer programme of the Richard Itter Archive – a meticulously documented collection of around 1500 BBC transmissions using professional disc and tape recorders. It constitutes another feather in their cap.

There's been a dearth of interest from record companies regarding Bernard van Dieren, and I'm only aware of two other releases - The Bernard van Dieren Collection (BML001 nla - review) and the Sixth String Quartet, one of three quartets featured on a CD titled String Quartets from the Twenties, performed by the Utrecht Quartet and issued by NM Classics (98020). The present new, long-anticipated recording, meticulously prepared and conducted by William Boughton, will be welcomed with open arms.

Although van Dieren was born in Rotterdam, most of his working life was spent in England. In 1909 he and his future wife, concert pianist Frida Kindler (1879-1964), moved to London where they married a year later. They had one son. Bernard van Dieren's first job was as London music correspondent for a Rotterdam newspaper. As a young composer he didn’t lack encouragement, with the likes of Jacob Epstein, Cecil Gray and Philip Heseltine rooting for him. Busoni and Schoenberg were also supportive and influential. Sadly, kidney problems began to afflict him from 1912, and his painful recurring renal stones required morphine on occasion. By 1936 his health had broken down completely and he died prematurely on 24 April that year at the age of only forty-eight. After his death his music had the occasional performance, but by the mid-fifties interest waned, and it took another twenty years for enthusiasm to be rekindled and, from what I can gather, this has progressed only in fits and starts.

The centre-piece here is the Symphony No. 1, Op. 6, titled Chinese, written between 1912 and 1914. Van Dieren drew on German translations by Hans Bethge of poems from Die Chinesische Flöte. Schoenberg, Webern, Wellesz, Strauss and, most famously, Mahler in Das Lied von der Erde had also mined this source for some of their music. Der Trinker im Frühling appears in both the van Dieren and Mahler works. Employing substantial orchestral forces, the symphony incorporates five soloists and a chorus. The London Symphony Orchestra, the Wireless Chorus and soloists, conducted by Constant Lambert premiered the work for the BBC on 15 March 1935. Van Dieren was clearly influenced by the music of Schoenberg and Busoni. The work is intensely chromatic but doesn't immerse itself in the atonality that would later inform his music. Nonetheless, I did find it quite dissonant at times. The Symphony plays in one continuous movement but has eight distinct sections. It evokes 'the beauty of the dark blue night with the lake glistening in the moonlight' and depicts young lovers, once separated, now united. Midway comes an orchestral interlude, which precedes the final three sections. The Interludio is a nocturne, where van Dieren conjures up a moonlit scene by his deft use of varied orchestral pastel shades. The effect is spellbinding. Boughton directs a thoroughly well-rehearsed performance, allowing one to hear orchestral detail to the full. The chorus and soloists are similarly well-drilled and sustain the breadth of the work with intelligence and insight. All taking part are expertly balanced in the mix. This is particularly effective in the last section for vocal quintet, where the soprano and tenor soloists are gradually joined by the contralto and baritone in a lush, sumptuously textured canvas. There’s an impressive array of soloists. Rebecca Evans and Nathan Vale blend well in the Duettino (section 3), their voices intertwine, supported by some diaphanous orchestral accompaniment, at one point reduced to a solo viola depicting the moon resting in the dark blue of the heavens. The other soloists likewise make assured contributions. The choir step up to the mark admirably in what, I would imagine, is a challenging task.

The Introit was composed in the summer of 1921 and was premiered at the Proms by the Queen’s Hall Orchestra that September. Van Dieren took as his inspiration a section of Rabelais’ "Gargantua et Pantagruel" entitled Les Propos des Buveurs (The Discourse of the Drinkers). It was originally intended as a prelude to a work for chorus and orchestra, but the larger plan never came to fruition. Delian brush-strokes tint the gentle Lento opening, but serenity doesn’t last very long before the music degenerates into an intoxicating brand of quirky humour as the revelers enter the scene. The orchestration is vivid, vibrant and inventive, and Boughton graphically points up the orchestral colours of this dazzling showpiece with stunning precision.

If you like the music of Frederick Delius I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be seduced by a saunter through the rhapsodic landscape of the Elegie für orchester mit violoncello principale. Raphael Wallfisch proves himself a persuasive advocate of this luscious score, eloquently contouring the ebb and flow of its organic narrative, whilst savouring its chromatic lyricism. Penned between 1908 and 1910, probably for his brother-in-law Hans Kindler, it’s the only one of three early orchestral pieces to have had a performance in modern times. The BBC broadcast it in 1976 with cellist Christopher Bunting and the RPO under Myer Fredman; this performance is available on Youtube.

This is a rewarding enterprise and provides a valuable introduction to the composer’s music. It has been well-recorded, the Hoddinott Hall’s warm ambience conducive to revealing the inner detail of these richly fashioned scores. I must commend Lyrita on their booklet. It’s all there: German text and translation, background and context to the composer’s life, with Alastair Chisholm’s detailed commentary on each of the eight sections of the Symphony helping navigate the listener through the music. Who could ask for more? I'm also very taken with the cover art work featuring Vincent van Gogh's Almond Blossom (1890).  For the artist it represented awakening and hope. I hope this release will arouse similar sentiments for the music of this unsung composer.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous reviews: John France ~ John Quinn (Recording of the Month)



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