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Flemish Connection IV / Latham-Koenig, Vlaamse Radio Orchestra


Release Date: 06/21/2005 
Label:  Etcetera Records   Catalog #: 4002   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Peter BenoitLodewijk MortelmansLodewijk de VochtArthur Meulemans,   ... 
Performer:  Luc Tooten
Conductor:  Jan Latham-Koenig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vlaamse Radio Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The part of Belgium that today borders the Netherlands was once known as Flanders. During the 15th and 16th centuries, this geographical area, which also included part of northern France and Holland, gave rise to the so-called Flemish School. The music that comes from this time and place spans several generations of composers—Dufay, Ockeghem, Josquin des Prés, Orlando Lassus being the names most recognized—and accounts for some of the most important and gloriously beautiful vocal polyphony ever written. But, as in the changing scenes of a play with many acts, Flanders exited center stage at the end of the Renaissance (around 1600), and the spotlight shifted to Italy. The age of opera, instrumental music, and the Baroque had begun, Read more and music fell largely silent in Belgium for nearly 150 years. By the mid 18th century, a musical revival in Belgium, “of sorts,” got underway, with native composers Grétry, Gossec, and Méhul making important contributions. Nineteenth-century Belgium gave us violinist composers Vieuxtemps and Ysaÿe, organist composer César Franck, and most of the composers on this CD. I describe the revival as one “of sorts” because many of these composers found France more fertile ground for furthering their careers, and today tend to be thought of as French rather than Belgian, or at least part of a Franco-Belgian school.

One of the composers on this disc, Peter Benoit (1834–1901), was familiar to me from a Talent CD (2910 88) of his Hoogmis (“Solemn Mass”) that became an entry on my 2003 Want List. With that magnificent piece still in my head, the two orchestral excerpts here from his opera Charlotte Corday, were, frankly, a disappointment. I’m not quite sure what I expected of an opera that tells the story of the woman who murders Jean-Paul Marat in his bath in retribution for his gleeful participation in the bloodletting of the French Revolution, but an overture based on La Marseillaise doesn’t quite do it for me.

This is as good a place as any to observe that most of the composers represented here, with the exception of Benoit, lived well into the 20th century; yet we are dealing with music that is ripely Romantic, either because it is (i.e., having been written around the time of Brahms), or because it chooses to emulate late 19th- and early 20th-century models. Take, for example, Mortelmans’s (1868–1952) Evangelical Diptych. Originally composed 1893–1897, but not orchestrated until 1933, it has the nobility of a solemn processional from Parsifal and the dignity of a slow-motion, Elgarian Pomp and Circumstance coronation march.

Very beautiful, the Mortelmans, but if there is one piece on the disc to die for, it’s the symphonic poem In Exile by Lodewijk De Vocht (1887–1977). Autobiographical in nature, this 12-minutes-plus masterpiece, written in 1914, is a musical narrative that describes the composer’s flight, along with his wife and child and thousands of other Belgians to the neutral Netherlands when Antwerp was bombed early in the First World War. Again, the broad, solemn strains of a Wagnerian brass choir intone the opening measures. What follows is a deeply sorrowful weeping that rises to a shattering climax, comparable to pieces like Elgar’s Sospiri and Barber’s Adagio for Strings. This is music that will make you sob uncontrollably.

The remaining pieces are all quite lovely, but best give yourself time to recover before going on. Also by De Vocht comes a much later work, the symphonic poem for cello and orchestra, Toward a Higher Light, from 1933. This piece, too, is autobiographical and elegiac in nature, a response to the loss of his two sons. It is in a slightly more modern language, though still Romantic in gesture and tone. Yet, despite its sincere grief, the inspiration that produced In Exile seems not to have come as easily in this later piece. Richard Strauss now seems to be an influence—perhaps De Vocht was familiar with Don Quixote.

Arthur Meulmans (1894–1966) wrote his Evasions, a five-movement suite for orchestra, in 1954. Though not the latest composed piece on the disc, it is the most modern sounding; still, we are dealing with music of strongly Romantic inclinations. Evasions seems to be more grounded in the reality it purports to be a “flight from and an evasion of” than are any number of our own current events. Its five movements, bearing only tempo markings as titles, contain music that is mostly bustling and busy (except for the Lento, which is kind of scary-movie creepy sounding), but in the end, it doesn’t make much of a lasting impression.

Jef Van Hoof’s (1886–1959) Symphonic Introduction (1942) begins with a Wagnerian overture take-off, if I ever heard one. After that, it settles into in an effective, rousing concert-fanfare type piece.

You probably have to be of Flemish descent to appreciate that Gaston Feremans’s (1907–1964) oratorio, The Bronze Heart (1961), is an ode to the city of Mechelen, its St. Rombout tower and carillon, and its “renowned” composer and carilloneur Staf Nees. You needn’t be of Flemish descent, however, to appreciate this wonderfully clever, if too brief, Praeludium and Fughetta, which manages to depict the high-spirited bell-ringer huffing and puffing his way up to the belfry, and the ringing and chiming of the bells.

This is a wonderful release. Playing and recording are both exceptionally good. It’s too soon to say, but this might just find its way onto my 2006 Want List. Highest recommendation.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1. Charlotte Corday: Overture by Peter Benoit
Conductor:  Jan Latham-Koenig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vlaamse Radio Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1876; Belgium 
2. Charlotte Corday: Waltz by Peter Benoit
Conductor:  Jan Latham-Koenig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vlaamse Radio Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1876; Belgium 
3. Tales and Ballads for Piano, Op. 34: Excerpt(s) by Peter Benoit
Conductor:  Jan Latham-Koenig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vlaamse Radio Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1859-1861; Belgium 
Notes: Orchestrated: Lodewijk Mortelmans 
4. Evangelical Diptych by Lodewijk Mortelmans
Conductor:  Jan Latham-Koenig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vlaamse Radio Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1893–1897; Belgium 
5. In Exile by Lodewijk de Vocht
Conductor:  Jan Latham-Koenig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vlaamse Radio Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914; Belgium 
6. Towards a Higher Light by Lodewijk de Vocht
Performer:  Luc Tooten (Cello)
Conductor:  Jan Latham-Koenig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vlaamse Radio Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933; Belgium 
7. Evasions by Arthur Meulemans
Conductor:  Jan Latham-Koenig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vlaamse Radio Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1954; Belgium 
8. Introduction to a Festive Occasion by Jef Van Hoof
Conductor:  Jan Latham-Koenig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vlaamse Radio Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1942; Belgium 
9. The Bronze Heart: Praeludium and Fughetta by Gaston Feremans
Conductor:  Jan Latham-Koenig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vlaamse Radio Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961 

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