In 2012, the Royal Flemish Philharmonic joined the growing number of orchestras who manage their own record labels. This recording of Adolphe Samuel’s Symphony No. 6, Op. 44 and Joseph Jongen’s Three Symphonic Movements, Op. 137 is part of a series of recordings from the label named Belgian Boutique, the goal of which is “to uncover hidden gems from Belgian composers.” With this release of two important world premiere recordings, they have positively hit their mark.
Adolphe Samuel (1824-1898) and Joseph Jongen (1873-1953) were both born in the Belgian city of Liège. As evidenced by this recording, there are many similarities between the two composers’ music. In Samuel’s case, who was writing much earlier than Jongen (the Sixth was completed in 1891), you can hear in his music the influences of Berlioz and Liszt, as well as the unmistakable harmonic and motivic methods of Wagner at its core. Jongen’s work was written much later, in 1951. In the interim, composers from the Impressionist movement had taken Wagner’s chromatic tonality about as far as it could go, while at the same time, adding an increasingly French accent to it. Jongen continues this direction, creating a work that might be described as neo-impressionistic. Right from the opening of Three Symphonic Movements, the shimmering harmonies and perfumed sonorities of a post-Debussy world are apparent.
Samuel’s Symphony No. 6 is a programmatic work, inspired by religious themes from the Old Testament. The sample provided is the third movement titled Cain (Presto guerriero). You can hear how effective Samuel’s orchestration is and how his dramatic flair and thematic variation make for interesting listening. I hope too that the very high level of playing by the Royal Flemish Philharmonic under Martyn Brabbins is apparent in this brief excerpt.
This is an important, enjoyable and ear-opening release. Amazingly, it appears to be the very first commercial recording of any of Adolphe Samuel’s music on CD. In addition, it fills what I can now see was a major gap in the Jongen discography.
The second CD in the Belgian Boutique series combines works by two composers from the south of Belgium. First there is the mystical, Wagnerian Sixth Symphony by Jewish composer Adolphe Samuel, in which he presents the story of the Creation. Then there is Joseph Jongen’s last orchestral piece, the neo-impressionist Three Symphonic Movements.
A modern and stylistically flexible symphony orchestra, the Royal Flemish Philharmonic demonstrates an artistic flair that allows for a variety of styles, from classical to contemporary, in a historically authentic manner.
Adolphe-Abraham Samuel (11 July 1824 – 11 September 1898)
Samuel was a Belgian music critic, conductor and composer. Samuel was born in Liège. He spent much time in Brussels where he was a pupil of François-Joseph Fétis. He also studied with Joseph Daussoigne-Méhul at the Royal Conservatory of Liège. Samuel won the Belgian Prix de Rome in 1845, composed seven symphonies (1846–94), five operas (1845–54) and a cantata for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the coronation of Belgium’s first king, Leopold I (1856, L’union fait la force).
In 1871, after conducting an orchestra for some years and (beginning in 1865) directing a series of Popular Concerts, Samuel resigned and became director of the Ghent Conservatory. He died in Ghent.
Marie-Alphonse-Nicolas-Joseph Jongen (14 December 1873 – 12 July 1953)
Jongen was a Belgian organist, composer, and music educator. Jongen was born in Liège. On the strength of an amazing precocity for music, he was admitted to the Liège Conservatoire at the extraordinarily young age of seven, and spent the next sixteen years there. Jongen won a First Prize for Fugue in 1895, an honors diploma in piano the next year, and another for organ in 1896. In 1897, he won the prestigious Prix de Rome, which allowed him to travel to Italy, Germany and France.
He began composing at the age of 13, and immediately exhibited exceptional talent in that field too. By the time he published his Opus 1, he already had dozens of works to his credit. His monumental and massive First String Quartet was composed in 1894 and was submitted for the annual competition for fine arts held by the Royal Academy of Belgium, where it was awarded the top prize by the jury.
He came back to Belgium and was named professor of fugue at the Royal Conservatoire in Brussels. From 1925 until 1939, he served as director.
Royal Flemish Philharmonic
A modern and stylistically flexible symphony orchestra, the Royal Flemish Philharmonic demonstrates an artistic flair which allows for a variety of styles – from classical to contemporary – in a historically authentic manner.
Alongside its regular concerts, the Philharmonic attaches great value to developing educational and social projects, offering children, youngsters, and people with different social backgrounds the opportunity to get acquainted with the symphony orchestra from close quarters.
Martyn Brabbins, director
Martyn Brabbins is one of the most notable and versatile British conductors. After studying composition and conducting in London in Leningrad in 1988 he won first prize at the Leeds Conductors’ Competition. He is a regular member of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Martyn Brabbins specialized in contemporary music and is a frequent guest conductor with current music ensembles such as the London Sinfonietta, the Ensemble Modern, Ensemble InterContemporain and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
In addition to the concert stage Brabbins is also active in the pit of many opera house.