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Adolphe Samuel: Symphony No. 6; Joseph Jongen: Three Symphonic Movements

Samuel / Royal Flemish Philharmonic / Brabbins
Release Date: 10/08/2013 
Label:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic   Catalog #: 6   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Adolphe SamuelJoseph Jongen
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SAMUEL Symphony No. 6. JONGEN Three Symphonic Movements Martyn Brabbins, cond; Royal Flemish P RFP 006 (57:59)

“There is no escaping Richard Wagner.” With these pithy words annotator Tom Janssens begins his illuminating essay on how Adolphe Samuel (1824–1898) and Joseph Jongen (1873–1953) came under the Wagnerian spell and how that colored the music on this disc. There are more reasons to pair these two Belgians. To quote Janssens: “Both came Read more from Liège, won a Prix de Rome … began their professional careers teaching harmony, were active as conductor of the Concerts populaires and ended their careers as director of the [Ghent] Conservatoire.”

The Sixth of Samuel’s seven symphonies is a 35-minute, four-movement work that began as his Second Symphony in 1847, was reorchestrated as his Fourth in 1863 and ended up as the Sixth, a program symphony derived from Genesis in 1891. It simply drips with Wagnerian idioms: lush sonorities, rich counterpoint, dense textures, soaring melodic lines, and harmonic practice Wagner himself might have used. We hear strains that instantly recall passages in Rienzi, Lohengrin, Meistersinger, Parsifal , and especially Tristan , with its writhing lines and feverish tone. Some passages were obviously influenced by the pulsing, shimmering sonorities of the Parsifal Prelude. This is not to say one could mistake it for a lost Wagner symphony. Samuel adapts the idioms to his own purpose. Unfortunately, the Symphony lacks Wagner’s staying power. The first two movements are by far the most interesting. The second seems to have been inspired by the scorching, rapturous dream world of Tristan and Isolde’s Liebesnacht . The third movement resembles a scherzo, though one of no particular imprint, and the Finale is marred by the frequent reappearance of a cheap, mock-pompous tune that Wagner would never have touched.

The Three Symphonic Movements (1951) was Jongen’s last orchestral work. The title suggests that it might be three-quarters of a symphony, something like Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo, and Finale , but in fact it consists of three independent pieces entitled “Nocturne,” “Danses,” and “Toccata.” The score is splendidly orchestrated in a post-Impressionist style that shows the obvious influence of La Mer, Daphnis and Chloe, and other masterpieces. The “Nocturne” opens in the misty, shadowy, far-off world of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande . Later we hear the diaphanous shimmer that is a feature of the Dawn sequence in Daphnis and Chloe . The final chord of the “Nocturne” will send a shiver down your spine, so exquisitely pungent is it. The “Danses” has a simple charm periodically broken by violent outbursts. The “Toccata” too is filled with many wonderful touches of orchestration. The melodic interest is slight, but the harmonic and coloristic elements of the Three Symphonic Movements are sufficient to sustain interest.

The Royal Flemish Philharmonic is a fine orchestra with a bright, clean sound, though the brass blare on occasion. But this is a well-disciplined ensemble and Martyn Brabbins conducts it with passion and commitment. The recording acoustic is vibrant and captures the densely scored music in great detail, but at full volume the sound can become distorted and muddy. Either the hall is overly reverberant or artificial reverb was added, as the final chords resound for an abnormally long time. Two more minor quibbles: Nowhere in Janssens’s otherwise excellent notes do we find the composers’ dates, and the artwork portraying what looks like oil rigs is totally at odds with the music.

FANFARE: Robert Markow
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 6 by Adolphe Samuel
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Period: Romantic 
Written: Belgium 
Trois mouvements symphoniques, op. 137 by Joseph Jongen
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1951; Belgium 

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