Notes and Editorial Reviews
Jongen’s piano music spans his entire creative life, although most of it belongs to his mature years. One of his first acknowledged piano pieces, Sérénade Op.19 dates from 1901. From then on, he composed regularly for the piano throughout his long and busy career, from short pieces to more substantial sets, such as Suite en forme de sonate Op.60 (1918) and 24 Petits préludes Op.116 (1941), both available in Volume 1 (ADW 7475/6 reviewed here some time ago) as well as one of his greatest masterpieces Treize Préludes Op.69 (1922) and Dix Pièces Op.96 (1932), both recorded in Volume 2 under review. His sizeable and varied piano output allows for a fair appreciation of his musical progress from the influence
of Franck and his followers to his more personal blend of Impressionism under the shadow of (but not overshadowed by) Debussy and Ravel, whom he sincerely admired. From this point of view, the second volume of piano music from Pavane is somewhat more revealing, since it includes two fairly early pieces, Sérénade Op.19 (1901) still somewhat indebted to Fauré and Sarabande dans le style ancien (1902) nodding to Ravel’s Pavane pour une Infante défunte. However, by that time, i.e. the early years of the 20th Century, it was clear that Jongen was freeing himself from Franck’s heritage and moving into other directions, viz. France, Debussy and Ravel. As can be seen from the above details, it is clear that Jongen composed quite a number of piano pieces, both small and large; and it would thus be idle to claim that each of them is a masterpiece. Nevertheless, what comes clearly through all these pieces is the remarkable stylistic consistency, and the fact that Jongen’s music is entirely and unmistakably personal without the slightest blunt imitation of his models’ music.
It would be idle to go into details about all these pieces. This second volume, however, includes several substantial pieces such as Deux Etudes de concert Op.65, the two Ballades (Op.105 and Op.119) and, what may be rightly regarded as his masterpiece for the piano, Treize Préludes Op.69. It would be tempting to compare Jongen’s Preludes to Debussy’s; but – and it is a big But – unlike Debussy, Jongen drew his ideas not from nature, but from emotions and feelings. From this point of view, too, Treize Préludes may be one of his most personal, intimate pieces, in which the emotional expressive range is broad indeed. Jongen alternates the various climates to achieve the fullest expression : Inquiétude... Nostalgique... Pour danser... Tourments... Eau... Tranquille... Appassionato... Il était une fois... Interlude... Angoisse... Giovinezza... Papillons noirs... Tendresse... Air de fête...; note the three dots after each title, another nod towards Debussy who placed the title at the end of each piece, preceded by three dots. Some of the Preludes are tense, anguished, troubled; but, typically enough (I think), relief is miraculously achieved in the twelfth prelude Tendresse... , and the whole set is rounded-off by a joyfully bustling Air de fête.
Similarly, both Ballades may be considered a homage to Chopin, but the music is again entirely Jongen’s own. These pieces are demanding technically but always highly rewarding to play and to listen to as well; and so are Deux Etudes de concert Op.65.
Most other pieces here are short and speak for themselves. The music is always superbly crafted - he was a fine pianist - attractive and enjoyable. Some of the shorter pieces might be regarded as trifles, but they are always wonderfully done, with much refinement and subtlety, which does not exclude humour either, as in Mazurka Op.126bis or in the two pieces of Opus 76 (Mazurka and Napolitania).
Another set, also well worth considering, is Dix Pièces pour le piano seul Op.96 (1932), actually a magnificent substantial suite of short character sketches of great charm and variety ending with a beautiful, mystical Hymne védique. Jongen scored the set for chamber orchestra in 1942, and other pieces such as Bourrée dans le style ancien Op.123, Sarabande triste Op.58 (composed during World War I when Jongen had settled in England) and Petite Suite Op.75 (in Volume 1) also exist in orchestral guise.
Pavane had the good idea to complete their exhaustive survey of Jongen’s piano music by recording his pieces for piano duet. With the exception of Fantaisie sur deux Noëls populaires wallons Op.24 - once one of his most popular works and originally for orchestra available on Cyprès CYP 1634 reviewed here - Jongen’s pieces for piano duet are generally lighter in mood. In these delightful miniatures, the composer gives way to his feelings as a father (in Pages intimes Op.55 dedicated to his children and also existing in orchestral guise) and as a grandfather (in Jeux d’Enfants Op.120 dedicated to his grandchildren). Delightful vignettes indeed, blending tenderness and jollity, dreaminess and humour in much the same way as in Walton’s Music for Children. Both sets are reasonably well known, whereas the lovely triptych Cocass-March, Petite Berceuse et Divertissement Op.129 (1950) remained largely ignored until this recording. This late piece is another little gem comparing most favourably with Pages intimes and Jeux d’Enfants, which makes its neglect all the more difficult to understand. The very last piece is Volume 2, Intermezzo-piccolo Op.136bis, – appropriately enough – a final homage to Ravel in the form of a ravishing waltz fantasy.
Diane Andersen plays beautifully throughout, and she is superbly partnered by André De Groote in the pieces for piano duet. This second volume is a pure joy from first to last, and a must for all the admirers of Jongen’s music. All who respond to Debussy’s, Ravel’s or Ireland’s piano music will find plenty to enjoy here.
- Hubert Culot,
Works on This Recording
Pages intimes, Op. 55 by Joseph Jongen
André De Groote (Piano),
Diane Andersen (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
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