Notes and Editorial Reviews
Suite from Act I.
Andante and Scherzo for Cello and Orchestra.
Martyn Brabbins, cond; Timora Rosler (vc);
Flemish R Ch;
Buizingen Brass Band;
ETCETERA 4017 (67:22)
Paul Gilson (1865–1942) was one of the best-known Belgian composers at the turn of the 20th century. Although he composed over 500 works, his name is known beyond the borders of his country primarily because he composed a work entitled
in 1892, a decade before Debussy. That coincidence has kept the work alive; it has appeared on internationally distributed recordings about once a generation—I can’t speak for Belgian issues. The resemblance to Debussy is superficial: each movement (four instead of three) bears a title relating to the sea, but only the finale, “La tempête,” is descriptive music, and only there does Gilson suggest either the color or power of the later masterpiece. His boisterous finale employs a family of 11 saxhorns and a wordless men’s chorus; both scored
. The brass upset an otherwise sonorous orchestration, but the chorus is negligible
The surprise here is that Gilson’s other pieces outshine his
, which is less surprising when one realizes that it was his first symphonic work.
was a ballet written in 1900, from which Frits Celis compiled this suite in 1995. Gilson was basically self-trained (a few teachers are mentioned in the lengthy notes), learning from scores of music that attracted him, primarily Wagner and the Russian nationalists. The ballet’s name and music evoke the perfumed exoticism that consumed fashionable Europe at the time. Its melodic content is consistently pleasing without ever being memorable; its scoring has a strong flavor of Rimsky-Korsakov and more than a hint of Wagner. Gilson’s music exudes confidence as well as competence: I know just what I want to say, and this is exactly it. Some of
merely passes the time pleasantly, but some is drop-dead gorgeous, including much of the final Moderato. A giant orchestra gives its all, and the recorded sound is voluptuous.
Gilson had a strong predilection for winds and brass; this Andante and Scherzo is his only concerted work for a string instrument. The two-movement form was a popular romantic device, and these lovely nine minutes fit right in with the likes of Saint-Saëns’s
Introduction and Rondo capriccioso
. From the evidence at hand, Gilson verged on being a major composer, perhaps underestimated because of his country’s artistic split personality (Franck had been on the French side, with ties to Paris; Gilson was Flemish). One wonders what his other 500 works have to offer: “cantatas, oratorios, theater music, operas, ballets, chamber music, symphonic and concertante works, melodramas, music for organ/or harmonium for liturgical usage, approximately 150 works for wind band, fanfare and brass band, as well as songs and choral works.”
FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
La captive by Paul Gilson
Flemish Radio Orchestra
La mer by Paul Gilson
Flemish Radio Choir,
Flemish Radio Orchestra,
Buizingen Brass Band
Written: 1892; Belgium
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