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


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.

Martyn Brabbins conducts the Royal Flemish Philharmonic