Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 1.
Ballet Suite. Symphonic Etude. Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Kuhnau
David Porcelijn, cond; Netherlands SO
CPO 777 721-2 (56:45)
Though he trained at the Amsterdam Conservatory under J. B. de Pauw (organ), and Bernard Zweers (composition), Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981) was more influenced by César Franck, especially in the use of variational structures and counterpoint derived from Renaissance sacred music, and by the French
Neoclassicists in his polytonal harmonies, lightly expressive touch, and open textures. He was never an original, and only rarely sought to make monumental statements—factors that go some way to explaining why he went largely ignored on the international 20th-century music stage, if one sets aside the
James H. North has written in these pages of multiple recordings of several Andriessen orchestral works in his native land, but little of that is domestically available. (And some only in large compilations. For example, Q Disc’s 11-CD set devoted to Eduard van Beinum and the Concertgebouw includes the
Miroir de Peine
and Symphony No. 4, while a 13-CD Q Disc set devoted to the Concertgebouw offers Pierre Monteux conducting the composer’s Organ Concerto, all from radio broadcasts.) More recent times have brought a few useful performances on disc, though that still leaves us with barely a sampling of his symphonic, chamber, and sacred music, which makes this release labeled as “Symphonic Works, Volume 1,” all the more important.
Four works are supplied. The Symphony No. 1 was finished after a decade-long gestation in 1930, and first conducted that year by van Beinum. Though terse—less than 14 minutes on this CD—it is a classical symphony in the sense of two fast movements (the first with a slow, lengthy introduction), surrounding an
that in turn encloses its own Scherzo. The two bookend movements have a neoclassical buoyancy. Even the slow, lengthy, frowning introduction (replete with moments of biting bitonality) recalls Haydn. The slow movement, however, touches upon deeper territory in its two- and three-part entwined, contrapuntal lines, while the Scherzo builds a satiric waltz from imitative textures and far-ranging harmonies. It’s typical of Andriessen that the symphony’s thematic content is a series of variations on material from the first movement introduction. Typical, too, is the mixture of immediate accessibility with layers of complexity, neither impeding the other.
Two more waltzes of a similar character appear in the
of 1947. Andriessen didn’t in fact write it for a ballet commission, and he further disclaimed having any story in mind. It is possible he was hoping to interest a choreographer, though he just may have wished to try his hand at the form. In three movements, a march and the two aforementioned waltzes (the last a cousin to the First Symphony’s Scherzo) each proceeds again as a series of variations on interrelated themes. The work furnishes fastidious detail, delicate orchestration, and a wry willingness to take its own alternately heroic and sensuous content and refract it all through a multitude of gently mocking perspectives.
Andriessen, like a few other “modern conservatives” such as Petrassi and Karayev, took up elements of serial composition in the 1950s. The
of 1952 employs a 12-tone row as its sole melody, and utilizes it initially in a five-voiced canon at the octave, but otherwise goes his own imitative way, through several continuous but clearly demarcated movements. Expressively, it moves from a mercurially uneasy Scherzo to that same achingly despondent territory Weinberg plumbed on occasion.
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Kuhnau
was composed in 1935 for string orchestra. The theme—originally a minuet that is part of Kuhnau’s Partita No. 6 in A Minor from his second publication of keyboard works—was heard by the composer as his young daughter Heleen practiced it at the piano. Again, there is an economy of means in a short work consisting of five variations and a double fugue. Each variation is a deliberate contrast in textures, tempo, and tonal and expressive weight with the others, and the overall effect is of concentration achieved at magisterial leisure.
The only version I’ve got of the First Symphony features the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic under Albert van Raalte, recorded in 1947 (Et’Cetera 1307). He gets an impassioned, taut reading out of his musicians, but there are a number of flubs along the way that were never corrected. David Porcelijn takes the first movement introduction more slowly, phrasing more carefully, though I prefer the momentum Raalte secures in the main section of the movement. Porcelijn makes more of the expressive lines in the
, and takes a faster pace in the Scherzo. He’s also more nuanced in the finale, while Raalte is precision, taut control, and dynamic spikes.
This can be taken as typical of Porcelijn’s leadership throughout this disc: colorful readings, careful attention to phrasing, clarity between the parts, and an attention to rhythmic accenting. These are more than the usual routine performances given on album after album to little-known works; these are well-rehearsed, attractive interpretations that do full justice to Andriessen’s music. I’m not about to throw out the two-CD Et’Cetera set, with its mix of excellent archival and recent material, but this release is a harbinger of good things to come. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 by Hendrik Andriessen
Netherlands Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
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