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Julius RÖNTGEN (1855-1932)
Chamber Music - Part 1
String Quartet in C major (1925) [16:27]
String Quartet in G minor Fancy (1917) [26:29]
Chinesische Lieder for soprano and piano (1916) [19:09]
Julia Bronkhurst (soprano); Hans Eijsacker (piano); Parkanyi Quartet;
rec. 2004?

Orchestral Music
Symphony in A minor (1931) [18:40]
Bitonal Symphony (No. 9) (1930) [15:01]
Symphony in C minor (1910) [28:47]
Noord Nederlands Orkest/Hans Leenders
rec. 2003/4, Oosterpoort Groningen

Julius Röntgen has been fairly well served in bursts of activity over the last twenty years. CPO has been in the vanguard with his orchestral music but others have been adding to the stop-start flood.

The present works adduce further evidence showing Röntgen as a nineteenth century traditionalist. Unlike Frank Bridge, who transformed his style fairly radically after the Great War, Röntgen held firmly to the nineteenth century examples of Dvořák, Grieg (a particular friend) and Smetana.

The C minor quartet is a four-movement confection, bustling, classically sweet and life-affirming. There's not a trace of dissonance or expressionism here. It has the street bonhomie of Bax's First String Quartet without the Irishry. The G minor quartet is from eight years earlier. Again, the impulse is classical but a cold disillusioning wind shivers through these pages on occasion. The chuckling and flickering Presto leggiero puts paid to such brown studies. It's vigorous and affectionate with more in common with the C major quartet's healing ways. The chill of the first movement pays court again in the deliberation of the Poco allegretto. The quartet ends in stately kindliness. This is a quartet of two alternating faces: classical delights in the manner of Dvořák and Grieg and a hemmed-in constraining complexity verging on melancholy. The work ends in whispered mood - a masterfully expressed ambivalence.

Oddly enough, Röntgen's Germanic cultural sympathies led to his picking up on the fashion for Far Eastern culture and in particular for Hans Bethge's Chinese poetry. He set six of Bethge's poems for soprano and piano. The style adopted here is elysian, well in keeping with gentle lied traditions and not at all faux-oriental. There is nothing of Mahler's or Zemlinsky's orchestral style about these likeable little lyrics - songs often cradled in sunshine or drizzled in regret.

These performances are artfully recorded and confidently and sympathetically performed. Julia Bronkhurst has already recorded CDs of South African art-songs and of songs by Henriette Bosmans and André Jolivet.

The liner-note is in Dutch and English while the words of the lieder are given in their native German without translations.

There are three works on the orchestral disc - all symphonies. The A Minor from 1931 is in four movements. The Moderato presents grey occluded Brahmsian skies which are dense with latent anger and tension. It's more a case of Brahms' ‘Tragic’ Overture than of the Second Symphony. This tension finds expressive outlet so that the movement ends in tenderness. A purer peace arches over the next two movements echoing the mood of the central sections of Brahms symphonies 2 and 3. The finale finds a surging heroic vigour that rocks the roots with Brucknerian majesty.

The Bitonal Symphony (No. 9) is in six episodes. This is the second recording I have heard of the work. CPO are responsible for the other, just issued. The music proceeds in six sweet-tempered episodes. It draws on Ravel-like delicacy but disrupts the effect with robust-booted jollity.

The C minor symphony is from 1910. Again, this is a sternly Brahmsian symphony echoing the Hamburg composer's Fourth and also seeming to show affection for Schumann's Rhenish. Louring clouds pass by in stately procession while the music broods and mourns. This is not the complete picture because other episodes are not short on weightless fantasy, especially in the ultimately majesty-cumbered finale.

The notes are in Dutch and English.

Cobra Records, working with the Röntgen family and ThuisKopie Fonds, issued three discs to form the label's 150th Anniversary Edition for Röntgen. There is a third disc (Chamber vol. 2) but that is in short supply.

The three symphonies, well documented, performed and recorded are a good place to start your Röntgen exploration but a sure-fire winner, for those who love chamber music with Dvořákian bustle, is the C minor string quartet - quite a discovery.

Rob Barnett



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