Belgian composer Joseph Jongen (1873-1953) has maintained a reputation based on one major piece, his 1926 Symphonie Concertante for Organ and Orchestra, once championed by Virgil Fox. Volume 18 of 'The Romantic Violin' series (rec. 9-11 July 2013) presents Jongen’s B Minor Concerto (1899), a work that would not find general favor until 1938 in a performance by Henri Merckel. The first movement Allegro poco maestoso projects a staid countenance: refined, sweet, with a capacity for florid work in the solo part. The counter-theme appears in E Major, lit up by interjections between the violin and the woodwinds and tympani. When the brass enters over graduated crescendos, the effect becomes temporarily intense, only to relent into the more lyric second subject with the dramatic element in a cappella. The dolce affect predominates, drives forward, and ends in an abrupt flourish.
The Adagio, molto espessivo projects a bucolic sentiment, a kind of pastoral on a French mountain air. The solo part keeps spinning in a high nasal tessitura over airy harmonies and some dark hues in the low basses. Only near the conclusion of the nine-minute song does the emotion soar into a massive tutti. Rising sixths in the strings set off the Anime finale, a device likely attributable to Cesar Franck. Graffin enters with a volatile series of runs and slides, some harmonics, and a 'rocket' transition to the serene secondary tune, realized by violin and chirping winds and long-held horn notes. In the course of the development, Jongen modulates to B Major for his emotional climax and coda, the latter of which ceremoniously ushers in wind and brass fanfares.
The Fantasie in E Major (1898) by Jongen finds an admirable lyricism in this performance by Philippe Graffin, whose 1730 Busano instrument lights up its delicate, relatively uncomplicated colors. The Adagio symphonique, Op 20, conceived in Paris (1901), projects an exotic mood, a cross between Saint-Saens and the darker contours of Florent Schmitt. The French horn rather dominates at first, but the violin soon weaves a seductive tapestry against the woodwinds and low strings. A sudden dramatic shift drives the music into more animated modes, including some play of the violin against the French horn, oboe, flute, and harp. The seductive riffs of the harp in B Major saturate what now appears as a pastoral piece, a bucolic serenade that might have passed as a Gallic version of Bruch.
Sylvio Lazzari (1857-1944), a pupil of Gounod, drifted into the circle of Gallic admirers of Wagner: D’Indy, Franck, and Chausson. The single-movement Rapsodie in E Minor (1922) displays a good sense of the dark hues and lush instrumental colors we know from Franck. Similar to the Chausson Poeme, the Rapsodie sports an early cadenza redolent of Bach until it merges with the woodwinds, and later the harp. The upward scales and high lyric mode make a kind of kinship with Vaughan Williams’ ascending lark. The writing becomes more virtuosic, in glissandos and fluid scalar trills while the mood remains idyllic. Late in the piece a somewhat martial element combines with a personal hymn motif. If any piece 'demanded' to have been included in this rare company, I would have suggested the 1927 Reynaldo Hahn D Major Concerto that won favor with the likes of Henryk Szeryng.