Notes and Editorial Reviews
Remembrance Overture. Perseus Overture.
Symphony No. 2 in A?
Ivo Venkov, cond; Janá?ek PO
PHÆDRA 92067 (53:21)
Every time I think I’m on the verge of uncovering a new find in these pages, I discover I’ve been scooped. Imagine then how ridiculous I felt to discover that in this case I was the scooper. In a
29:4 review I have no recollection of submitting, it seems that I covered an Etcetera CD of
works by Flemish composers that included Jef van Hoof’s
Introduction to a Festive Overture
. I had little to say about it other than that it sounded Wagnerian. But then come to find out I’d been scooped after all, for many, many issues earlier, in 23:6, Paul A. Snook reviewed a Marco Polo CD (since transferred to Naxos) that included Hoof’s Symphony No. 2, the main work on this disc, and a much more substantial piece than the unrecalled overture.
Jef van Hoof (1886–1959) was a well-respected Belgian composer with strong Flemish roots. Born in Antwerp, he studied with Paul Gilson and was influenced by the works of Peter Benoit. Though Hoof wrote in a number of genres—chamber music, solo piano and organ, song, and sacred choral—his most significant contribution appears to be six symphonies, the last unfinished. Most have been recorded. Whether the Second Symphony is of some special merit for it to have received a second recording, or Phædra has only now gotten around to it as part of an ongoing effort to record all of the composer’s symphonies, it’s hard to say.
Snook was muted in his response to the Marco Polo (Naxos) recording, calling Hoof’s 1941 symphony “one of the most laid-back efforts in this form one can imagine.” “Except for a modestly assertive scherzo,” Snook continues, “most of the work uses easygoing, moderate tempos with a noticeable tunefulness possibly redolent of Flemish folk song.” Snook is obviously more familiar with Hoof’s output as a whole than I am, for he notes that the Second Symphony is “not really all that representative of Hoof’s usual manner, which is often clipped and energetic in a neo-Straussian way.”
Hoof’s music—at least what I’ve heard of it—is basically that of a late or post-Romantic. Like the
that opens this disc strikes these ears as strongly influenced by Wagner, at least up to the point at the three-minute mark where the music breaks into a kind of half-Sousa, half-Johann Strauss military march which, according to note author Luc Leytens, as translated by Guy Tops, is supposed to be some sort of armed forces parody. The piece was written in 1917, but if it’s a Shostakovich-like bitter irony you’re expecting, forget it. Quoting fragments from the
Marseillaise, God Save the King
God Save the Czar
, Hoof’s marching martinets sound more like figures out of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta than the soldiers lying dead
In Flanders Field
, which happens to be the title of the album. The whole business eventually morphs into something that bears a resemblance to Tchaikovsky’s
without the cannon and bells. Musically, the piece is a hodgepodge of late 19th-century influences quite cleverly, if not completely effectively, put together by a composer with an ear for melody and orchestral color who was obviously well versed in the art of scoring.
Wagner makes an appearance again at the very beginning of the
written in 1908. Shades of the Valkyries on their steeds gallop by, but again Hoof’s horse soon gallops off in another direction. One understands Snook’s reference to Richard Strauss, for much in this early work is more tone poem than overture, very much resembling the style of writing familiar from
. But wait! What’s this I hear at 9:15—the thrusting string passage from Wagner’s
Overture? Leytens agrees about the Wagner thing, stating, “Hoof’s composition betrays a great deal of Wagnerian influence, as was nearly inevitable at the time.” Well, I don’t know about the “inevitable” part of it. There were probably even more composers around this time who were influenced by and were imitating Brahms. Nonetheless, considering that Hoof was only 20 and had just graduated from the Royal Flemish Conservatory when he wrote his
, it’s quite a remarkable achievement in its masterly handling of the orchestra. Clearly, Hoof was a talented young man.
So, we come at last to the Symphony No. 2 in A?, the one Snook called “one of the most laid-back efforts in this form one can imagine”—curious if true, considering that the work, written in 1941, according to the program note, is a “war symphony.” Hoof scribbled in the margin of the first page, “The whole world is gone—wiped off this world,” the first half in Dutch, the second in French, no doubt an allusion to Hitler’s invasion of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France in 1940.
The first movement, marked Moderato, is indeed largely meditative and elegiac, not the sort of music you would associate with the advance of tanks and the machinery of war, but I think you have to hear it in context of the entire symphony. For Hoof, the first movement was the end, not the beginning, as is reflected by his marginal scrawl. Counterintuitive as it may sound, the symphony actually seems to make more sense if its movements are listened to in reverse order. Much of the bitterness and grim tragedy come in the concluding Allegretto and in the Grave that precedes it.
It’s doubtful that Hoof is about to become the next major find in the archaeological dig, but all of this music is listenable and likeable, and it’s performed here with a good deal of polish and TLC by a Bulgarian conductor and a Czech orchestra that would not necessarily leap to mind as promoters of a Flemish composer. But leap they do and they land right on target with this superb recording.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Perseus, overture for orchestra by Jef Van Hoof
Venue: Concert Hall of the Janacek Philharmonic
Length: 11 Minutes 18 Secs.
Symphony No. 2 in A flat major by Jef Van Hoof
Venue: Concert Hall of the Janacek Philharmonic
Length: 28 Minutes 12 Secs.
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