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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Julius Rontgen, Symphonies 9 & 21, Serenade, Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt, David Porcelijn

The human animal is imitative. From infancy on, we learn to mimic the humans around us. And in every adolescent there is the world of imagination and creative singularity. Composers who are worth their salt manage to imitate and then enter a personal world of their own making. Julius Rontgen (1855-1932), a Netherlandish symphonist, does not enjoy a wide currency in today's concert world. Yet judging by the recent recording of his Symphonies 9 & 21 and his Serenade (CPO 777 120-2) he stands out as one who has worked through imitation and found a way to be original, at least sometimes.

The Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt under conductor David Porcelijn bring to us careful and nuanced readings of the three scores.

The "Semmering Serenade" is the earliest representative work, hailing from 1902. It marked his late entrance into large scale orchestral composition, though several youthful symphonies were under his belt by 1875. Apparently he destroyed them sometime after. The "Serenade" has some beautifully alive, long lined lyric melodics.

The "Symphony No. 9 'Bitonal'" (1930) has an elusive way about it. It does not exactly sound "modern," and indeed Rontgen did not find that the modern ways of his time suited his own sensibilities. Instead a kind of feelingful inspiration was his approach. There is a residue of romanticism to be heard here and elsewhere, but like Grieg and Sibelius it was but an idiom to allow inventiveness free reign. The "Bitonal" Symphony oscillates between centers. It is more a continual modulation between key polarities than a simultaneity of two keys at once as in Milhaud. Rontgen's bitonality is a linear trajectory between two key centers. Never does the bitonal twain meet. The mysterious and the characteristic are more at the forefront than a sort of tonal assault. Sometimes it feels like a continual developmental section of sonata form and a transition that does not transit in the end. Nothing wrong with that, really. It is fascinating music.

The "Symphony No. 22" has much charm and an orchestrational luminescence which somehow channels Brahms and Mendelssohn into the 20th century. In this Rontgen asserts himself as a consummate craftsman of neo-romantic pastoral pasturization? Yes. A man out of his time, no doubt, but if we forget that it does not matter.

Interesting and well-fashioned symphonics. And for that there is much pleasure to be had.

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