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De Boeck: Piano Concerto, Theroigne De Mericourt Prelude / De Beenhouwer, Venkov

De Boeck / Janacek Po / De Beenhouwer
Release Date: 03/13/2012 
Label:  Phaedra   Catalog #: 92071  
Composer:  August De Boeck
Performer:  Jozef De Beenhouwer
Conductor:  Ivo Venkov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

August de Boeck's music is reasonably well known in Belgium and abroad. His Symphony in G that has been regularly recorded but many sides of his sizeable output are still too little known. Phaedra have already released a couple of discs devoted to his music including some of his many songs and piano music. The present release offers a generous glimpse of de Boeck's orchestral output. 

He composed five operas, the first one being Théroigne de Méricourt completed in 1900. The heroin of the opera is a historical
Read more character from the 18th century who after leaving her native village of Marcourt in the Belgian Ardennes eventually ended up playing an important role in the French Revolution. The orchestral prelude to the opera is a fairly peaceful, nicely scored piece of music with apparently no hint whatsoever of Théroigne's later fate. 

The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was composed between 1926 and 1929. The original version was actually for Hans Piano and orchestra which calls for a bit of explanation. Pierre Hans, an amateur pianist with abnormally thick fingers, was looking for a way to continue playing the piano. Being an engineer he contacted the French firm Pleyel and together they devised a concert grand with two keyboards, of which the upper one was tuned a half tone higher than the lower. Several composers, Hans included, composed concertos for the instrument and a number of these were performed by the Antwerp pianist Maria Van Dommelen. She worked out the solo part in de Boeck's concerto but she obviously left a “sloppy and incomplete manuscript” (Jozef de Beenhouwer) which made a reconstruction near impossible. Thus, at the request of the Flemish composer Frits Celis, Jozef de Beenhouwer arranged the piano part for 'normal' concert grand and that is what we hear here. The concerto is in three movements played without a break with - surprisingly enough - no slow movement. The opening Moderato bridges into a Scherzo in turn moving to the final dance-like Allegro. The music is rather pleasant although it sometimes brings other piano concertos to mind such as Tchaikovsky's First and Grieg's. The whole is neatly put together and the resulting work is an attractive rarity, though by no means one of de Boeck's greatest works. 

La Route d'Émeraude
is de Boeck's fifth and last opera and, judging by the substantial suite recorded here, one of the peaks of his output. It was originally written to a libretto in French based on the eponymous novel by the French-speaking Flemish writer Eugène Demolder, the librettist being Max Hautier. Later it was performed in a Flemish version entitled Francesca by the composer August L. Baeyens, a much underrated composer by the way. Hautier titled the four acts as Calling, Love, Suffering and Redemption which perfectly reflect the main story that takes place around 1650 in Holland, near Dordrecht and in Amsterdam. The four acts have the hero Kobus Barent going to Amsterdam in an attempt to work with the painter Frans Krul, a friend of Rembrandt. In Amsterdam, too, he falls in love with a Spanish model Francesca. However, she leaves him and goes back to Spain with the Spanish pirate Barbéra. Kobus wanders aimlessly about Amsterdam and ends up stumbling into a church. The soothing hymns gradually calm him down and he then decides to go back to his parents' home. Kobus's father eventually forgives him while his mother sings a lullaby that she sang to him when a child. There is certainly more in the opera than this succinct overview may hint at. The libretto and its multifold subject matter obviously fired de Boeck's imagination who delivered what is certainly one of his richest and finest scores in terms of melodic and harmonic invention. The music is in turn dreamy, tender, despairing and impassioned sometimes bringing Richard Strauss's opulence to mind. Listening to the substantial suite brilliantly arranged by Frits Celis one would certainly like to hear the opera in full some day. I am sure that it would be a real winner even if the libretto, be it in French or in Dutch, is likely to sound slightly dated. Incidentally I must admit to having heavily plundered Frits Celis' detailed and well informed notes about the opera. 

As far as I can judge, these performances of works that must have been rather unfamiliar to the orchestra are just superb. They are also vividly recorded in most natural acoustics. De Boeck's music undoubtedly deserves to be better known both locally and abroad. This generously filled release should help. I cannot but commend it heartily for the quality of the music and for the excellent playing. 

-- Hubert Culot, MusicWeb International 
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Works on This Recording

1.
Théroigne de Méricourt: Prelude by August De Boeck
Conductor:  Ivo Venkov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra
2.
Concerto for Piano by August De Boeck
Performer:  Jozef De Beenhouwer (Piano)
Conductor:  Ivo Venkov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra
3.
Francesca: Suite by August De Boeck
Conductor:  Ivo Venkov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra

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