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Mortelmans: Homeric Symphony / Brabbins, Royal Flemish Philharmonic

Release Date: 10/13/2009 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67766   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Lodewijk Mortelmans
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MORTELMANS Homeric Symphony. Morning Mood. Myth of Spring Martyn Brabbins, cond; Royal Flemish P HYPERION 67766 (66:46)

Lodewijk Mortelmans (1868–1952) was a well-respected representative of the second generation of Flemish musical nationalism. A student of Jan Blockx and Peter Benoit at the Antwerp School of Music, he received the Belgian Prix de Rome in 1893, became professor of counterpoint and fugue at the Antwerp Conservatory in 1902, and directed the institution from 1924 until 1933. He was highly Read more regarded as a teacher, conductor, organizer, and song composer, even relatively early in his career.

Mortelmans’ Homeric Symphony was premiered at a special festival given in his honor in 1899. As he wrote at the time, “That title could give one the impression that this work is in Homeric style. That is absolutely not the case.” It was an instance of the composer enjoying The Iliad and The Odyssey and selecting a couple of general impressions and two passages that impressed him—much as Glazunov’s suite, From the Middle Ages , is meant as a series of generalized aural snapshots. The similarity goes deeper, as there is no effort made by either composer to invoke the musical character of the place or period. This was ironic in Glazunov’s case, as he was considered an authority on the Renaissance sacred and secular music of the Franco-Flemish School. So the Homeric Symphony is a symphony only in its dimensions. Musically, it is a series of four unrelated tone poems, each built around permutations of a single theme. “Of the heroes” depicts the optimistic morning of The Iliad ’s cast, in which youth understands it will succeed at all it attempts. “Memories of Patroklos’ death” is a stark funeral march for Achilles’ friend, while “Sirens playing and singing” seems less about the dangerously seductive mermaids of The Odyssey than Berlioz’s Queen Mab scherzo. The finale, “The Genius of Hellas,” bids a cheerful, martial farewell to this very sanitized version of a brutal, yet vitally active world. The work as a whole owes much to Raff, Glazunov, and Wagner through Tannhäuser , with just a single finale passage to signal the dawn of Lohengrin . There’s nothing greatly inspired in the results, but reasonably good tunes, attractive orchestration, and some clever thematic transformation.

As much can be said for its companions on this album. Myth of Spring (1895) owes its thematic contours and orchestration more strongly to Glazunov, with a dose, again, of Tannhäuser in an occasional harmonic passage. Morning Mood of 1922 is a lyrical paean to nature, again in terms that repeatedly recall Glazunov’s orchestral works. The quiet central section is perhaps the most poetic thing on this disc, and a good example of Mortelmans’ skill at quietly interweaving a pair of disparate melodic lines.

Transparent textures, beauty of phrasing, and good balance between sections are features I regularly associate with Brabbins’ conducting. That’s certainly the case here as well, and I don’t recall the Royal Flemish Philharmonic ever sounding this polished on recordings. Sometimes, however, the results seem a bit bloodless in the Homeric Symphony —as though conviction in the music got lost somewhere along the way. No matter: we’re not likely to encounter another recording of it anytime soon, much less one of such orchestral suavity. Recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Homeric Symphony by Lodewijk Mortelmans
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1896-1898; Belgium 
Morning Mood by Lodewijk Mortelmans
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Belgium 
Myth of Spring by Lodewijk Mortelmans
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1895; Belgium 

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