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Joseph JONGEN (1873-1953)
Chamber Music
Rhapsodie for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn, op. 70 (1922) [18:58] Concert à cinq for flute, violin, viola and harp, op. 71 (1923) [16:34]
Danse Lente (for flute and harp) op. 56 (1924) [7:27]
Deux Pièces en trio for flute, cello and harp) op. 80 (1925) [14:50]
Oxalys (Shirley Laub (violin); Elisabeth Smalt (viola); Martijn Vink (cello); Annie Lavoisier (harp); Jean-Claude Vanden Eynden (piano); Toon Fret (flute); Piet Van Bockstal (oboe); Nathalie Lefèvre (clarinet); Pieter Nuytten (bassoon); Eliz Erkalp (horn))
rec. 2004/13, Studio 1, Flagey, Brussels

Works for cello and orchestra
Cello Concerto Op. 18 (1900) [33:47]
Poème No. 1, Op. 16 for cello and orchestra (1899) [8:16]
Poème No. 2, Op. 46 for cello and orchestra (1916) [13:37]
Henri Demarquette (cello)
Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège/Christian Arming
rec. 2016, Salle Philharmonique, Liège

La Musique: songs (1902-48)
Chanson roumaine (Hélène Vacaresco), Op. 25 No. 3 (1902) [3:55]
Parfum exotique, Op. 29 (1906) [3:19]
Quand ton sourire me surprit, Op. 29 (1907) [2:16]
Tableau gothique, Op. 29 (1906) [4:01]
Que dans les cieux (Jules Delacre), Op. 45 No. 2 (1914) [3:04]
Les cadrans (Frans Hellens), Op. 45 No. 1 (1914) [3:53]
Calmes, aux quais déserts, Op. 54 (1917) [4:09]
Les pauvres, Op. 64 (1919) [3:27]
Epiphanie des Exilés (Frans Hellens), Op. 57 No. 1 (1917) [5:41]
Sur la grève (Henri de Régnier), Op. 57 No. 4 (1917) [4:22]
Release (Georges Jean-Aubry), Op. 57 No. 5 (1917) [4:13
La musique, Op. 135 (1948) [3.21]
Claire Lefilliâtre (soprano)
rec. 2016, Flagey, Brussels

The record label Musique en Wallonie has taken pole position in the march towards a renaissance for the works of Joseph Jongen but they are not alone. Passacaille, with its own catalogue for connoisseurs, adds its voice to the fray with four of Jongen's chamber pieces dating from the inter-war years (1922-25). Cyprès recorded some of these works about a decade ago.

Born in Liège, Jongen found his métier in beauty. He took ill to Schoenberg and Stravinsky, finding their new aesthetic approach bizarre, ludicrous and aggressive. His melodic ideas have been described as nonchalant, troubled, supple and warm.

The swirlingly lush Mediterranean textures and deft lines of the single-movement Rhapsodie for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn trace their lineage pretty frankly to Ravel and Debussy. The Ravel Introduction and Allegro is never far distant from Jongen's pen in the case of this work. Then again, neither is Debussy's faun. If you enjoy the Ravel Septet, Ropartz's Prélude, Marine et Chanson, Debussy's Danses Sacrées et Danse Profanes and the parallel chamber works of Arnold Bax (Rubedo, Chandos CHAN9602 and Hyperion CDA66807) then you will want to hear this. In this Rhapsodie, which also casts an admiring glance in the direction of Mussorgsky's Night on the Bare Mountain, the bass-anchoring piano assumes the role of the harp. The harp supplants the piano in Concert à cinq for flute, violin, viola, cello and harp from the year after. It's in three movements: a sunny and chattering Décidé, a tenderly caressing Calme and a happy and Iberian-inflected Très Décidé. There are some intriguing shiver-brushing effects and an upward sweeping flourish to enthuse and delight the audience. The beckoning Danse Lente for flute and harp again warms the listener. As for the Deux Pièces en trio for flute, cello and harp, its two 'bookends' are almost subdued in the case of the Assez lent and glitteringly light on its feet in the case of the Allegro moderato.

This is rapturous music, well documented, performed and recorded, most unjustly neglected for far too long and crying out for your listening time.

As I have said, Jongen has been faithfully and substantially supported by Musique en Wallonie and another orchestral disc should soon follow from that source. Their Pages Intimes disc has already been reviewed here. For now, though, we can rejoice that the world has this 55-minute assemblage of the music for cello and orchestra even if the Concerto has been recorded before on Cyprès who coupled it with other orchestral works by this composer.

The 1900 Cello Concerto takes after Elgar and D'Indy. It's a turbulent, late-romantic work with a noble line in cello oratory. It's by no means sleepy or turgid; in fact, it's quite chipper. Jongen here plies a nice line in melodic expression which at times verges on the Tchaikovskian. The second movement is morose-pensive and rather Franckian. The mood and colours are subdued with the lower end of the instrumental spectrum much in evidence from the orchestra. The upper - singing - part of the cello's range provides contrast. The finale is fierily dramatic, rising to excitement in something approaching the language of early Sibelius. At 1:49 the clouds part and we get some cheery pirouetting from the cello. Overall this music would make for a meet mood companion to the Dvořák concerto. There's some scintillation for Demarquette at the end and some determined fanfaring drama from the orchestra.

The Poème No. 1 (1899) predates the Concerto by a year. It takes after Franck again with yearning writing that winds and unwinds in rhapsodic style. Quite a short piece at just over eight minutes, it resists the very palm plants and salon world caramel I had expected. I am glad that this work has been revived. As for Poème No. 2 (1916), its pages have not been ruffled by the Great War. If that world conflict is referenced at all it is in the sable elegies of the second half of the score. This speaks with a matt finish rather than a high gloss. At times it sounds a little like Debussy and even Delius. It's a magical piece. Jongen's music is perhaps little old-fashioned for a composer born in 1873 and it has genuine rather than synthesised or forced feeling. If the 1916 Poème No. 2 makes rhapsodic progress it is certainly very appealing and again Jongen draws down sentiment rather than sentimentality. These works will go well with the later cello and orchestra works of Florent Schmitt (Timpani 1C1212) and André Caplet (EMI Classics) if sounding agreeably dated beside those works. These two Poèmes are not to be forgotten by cellists and producers assembling recitals of short pieces for cello and orchestra to join the productions of Sibelius, Bridge, Vieuxtemps and Popper.

It was not so long ago that I heard Henri Demarquette in a Sony disc of Michel Legrand's equally singing Cello Concerto. For Jongen he expends his energies productively. This is all to the profit of adventurous listeners after Demarquette as the champion cello voice for Timpani.

The CD slips into the front pocket of the miniature hardback production which boasts 45 pages, including Pirenne's admirable note in French, English, Flemish and German.

Demarquette and this ever-dedicated orchestra under Christian Arming introduce another chapter in the music of Joseph Jongen.

The MEW recording of Jongen's songs or Mélodies for soprano with piano quintet is a first. Although he wrote mostly instrumental music, MEW say that Jongen had a high regard for vocal music and that he left some thirty songs, mainly with piano accompaniment. In some cases there are up to three versions, with accompaniment by piano, string quartet, piano quintet or full orchestra.

Oxalys, who gave us some of the chamber music on Passacaille, now accompanies soprano Claire Lefilliâtre in a dozen Jongen songs on Musique en Wallonie. The label's look and feel has held firm so their discs are instantly recognisable. Their choices over the years have been inspiring and at each level the enquiring mind is rewarded and encouraged. Performance values are good, recording quality excels, book design is agreeable and their essays informative. The one for this disc is by Olivia Wahnon de L'Oliveira and is in French, English, Flemish and German. The words are set out in their sung language and in side-by-side translation into English, Flemish and German. The booklet suffers from no design eccentricities and everything you are likely to want is there in the right place and easily legible. The book package, which also holds the disc, is decorated with photos, letters, concert bills and score covers. These plunge you deep into Jongen's world. The whole thing has scholarly roots but is accessible and even enthusiastic. The song texts set by Jongen are, so far as the more familiar names are concerned, by Hélène Vacaresco (see Bax's Bard of the Dimbovitza), Baudelaire, Samain, Verhaeren and De Regnier. There is usually a downside and here it is that the playing time (45 minutes) is short.

Jongen's songs - at least these for voice and a discreetly supportive piano quintet - date from 1902 to 1920 with a single example from 1948. There are other Jongen songs and some of these are with orchestra as we know from a Cyprès collection in 2003. The talented Lefilliâtre brings dreamy exaltation to these songs. Chanson roumaine starts with a lovely trickling vocalise but soon gives wings and surge to Hélène Vacaresco's words. Parfum exotique positively glistens and drips pearly ecstasy. Quand ton sourire me surprit and Tableau gothique have more introspection and reserve. Que dans les cieux has a quiet yet springy lilt. Les cadrans is haunted with a chilly yet irresistibly lethargic edge. Calmes, aux quais déserts plays directly to this soprano's dreamy strengths although she also encompasses its high operatic moments as well. Les pauvres has a tellingly sentimental accompaniment and again floats along effortlessly on the singer's exalted tone. Epiphanie des Exilés is launched with a downbeat sing-song theme before a bass-emphatic tolling figure buoys up Lefilliâtre's line. An emotive nostalgia takes a loose yet warm grip. Henri de Régnier's words to Sur la grève again invite and receive a sleepy response and a warmly caressed closure. Release sets words by Georges Jean-Aubry in a dreamy haze. La musique is a very late setting and it is remarkable that Jongen dialled back three decades, with never a seam showing, to his style of 1917.

This is an engaging collection of Jongen active in the luxurious realms of songs for voice and a lushly rendered piano quintet.

Three discs that with skill and complete identification with this otherwise forgotten music give it refreshed vitality and the power to beguile.

Rob Barnett



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