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Peter Benoit in de reeks 'The romantic piano concerto'

» 19/03/2020

Peter Benoit in de reeks 'The romantic piano concerto'

Het is zover! Begin februari bracht het Britse label Hyperion de 80ste cd uit in zijn onvolprezen reeks 'The romantic piano concerto', een auditieve encyclopedie van het pianoconcerto in de 19de en begin 20ste eeuw.

Nadat we een tijd geleden het Symfonisch gedicht voor piano en orkest van Peter Benoit aan Hyperion hadden voorgesteld, namen pianist-dirigent Howard Shelley en het Sinfonieorchester St Gallen het concerto in februari 2018 op. Het SVM leverde voor die opname de door Hannah Aelvoet gereviseerde partituur en het orkestmateriaal.

Op de cd wordt Benoits concerto mooi gekoppeld aan een het Pianoconcerto nr. 3 in f van zijn tijd- en landgenoot Auguste Dupont (1827-1890). Ook dat concerto is een revelatie! Het SVM bezorgde ook de nodige informatie, zowel over Benoit als over Dupont, aan Jeremy Dibble (professor musicologie aan Durham University) die een interessante tekst voor het cd-boekje schreef. Hieronder vindt u zijn bijdrage over Benoit: 

'Regarded as the founding father of the national movement to establish Flemish music in Belgium, Peter Benoit (1834-1901) studied with Fétis at the Royal Conservatoire in Brussels, an institution very much francophone in its sensibility. This undoubtedly heightened his Flemish consciousness. After winning the Belgian Prix de Rome in 1857, and following the advice of Fétis, he visited Dresden, Cologne, Berlin, Munich and Prague. Between 1859 and 1863 he was conductor of the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens in the French capital where he hoped to establish himself as an operatic composer. This met ultimately with failure, and disillusioned by the French musical scene he returned to Belgium, settling in Antwerp in 1867. Here his efforts to found a Flemish music school were rewarded when the Belgian Government voted to augment its status to that of Royal Flemish Conservatory in larger recognition of the development of Flemish culture. Benoit devoted much energy to the concept of Flemish musical nationalism, which he hoped might achieve a level of creative imagination to match the leaders of German and French music. In this he was also inspired by Herder’s influential theory of Volksgeist, laying much stress on the significance of folk song and the rhythmic attributes of the Flemish language which, he fervently believed, provided the seeds of a national voice.

While in Paris, Benoit completed five volumes of Contes et ballades, Op 34, for solo piano, in 1861 (published in Paris in four volumes in 1866). These pieces were important in that they were inspired by Flemish legends and folk tales. This did not escape one Parisian critic who described Benoit as ‘le Walter Scott de la musique’. Stimulated by the content and character of these pieces, Benoit completed a piano concerto in three movements, Op 43b, in August 1865, which was performed for the first time in Antwerp on 26 February 1866 by the young pianist Sophie Dumon. At the same concert Dumon’s brother, Jean, performed Benoit’s flute concerto, Op 43a (also completed in 1865), for the first time. In 1885 Benoit assigned the title of Symfonisch gedicht (‘Symphonic poem’) to both concertos. Along wit the Contes et ballades, Benoit considered these works as a musical ‘triptych’ intended to be performed together wherever possible, and they remained hugely significant in his output. In the posthumous critical edition of the piano concerto made by Paul Gilson in 1921, a programme provided by the pianist Frans Lenaerts (a piano professor at the Royal Flemish Conservatory) in 1899 was included. The edition also added optional virtuosic adaptations to the piano part devised by the Belgian pianist Arthur De Greef, who performed the work on several occasions, including those with Benoit conducting. While it seems that the composer approved both the programme and De Greef’s alterations, for this recording Howard Shelley has played Benoit’s original version.

The first movement, entitles ‘Ballade’, sets a typical Romantic nocturnal scene around the derelict castle in the town of Harelbeke (where Benoit was born). Set in C minor, a solo horn establishes a tragic tone to the entire movement which is contrasted with a theme for the piano in the relative, E flat major, evoking the castle’s once famous reputation with its knights and their chivalric code. The development elides these two features in a much more overtly symphonic manner (unlike the constant tempo changes of the exposition which are distinctly un-concerto-like). Towards the end of the development the horn-call idea becomes more insistent, particularly when it is heard exposed on a pregnant augmented-sixth harmony. This yields to a fiery outburst of the same music on the dominant of C, G, which prepares the way for the recapitulation of the second subject in C major marked ‘in tempo poco largo e fieramente’. This statement eventually leads to a heroic climax, but it is the tragedy of C minor that prevails in the last part of the movement where the pianist, in the role of raconteur, has an extensive cadenza.

The second movement, ‘Bardenzang’ (‘Bardic song’), features a vocal style of melody which recounts the story of the old foresters and noblewomen. Central to the song is the once great historical legacy of Harelbeke, but more foreboding are the predictions that threaten Harlbeke’s very existence. Cast in A flat major, the movement opens with a melody of true pathos and sonority (reminiscent perhaps of Schumann’s Romances for solo piano), played first in the strings, then by the pianist, and then, in a more decorated variation, by both forces. With a hint of melancholy a secondary theme in D flat emerges as a contrast which reaches a pitch of true emotional yearning.

The finale, a scherzo entitles ‘Fantastische jacht’ (Fantastical hunt’), provides a response to the foreboding nature of the second movement in that the wild atmosphere of the ghostly hunt with its strong winds and dark clouds signals the end of Harelbeke’s castle. A structure of unusual and striking tonal events, the horn calls establish C minor as the principal tonality, yet the piano’s entry in F minor marks the first of several strange contradictions. The main theme is a minor-key version of the Flemish folk song ‘Daar kwam een muis gelopen’ – the first publishes edition of the score went so far as to print the tune as a ‘Flemish song after which the final movement is conceived’. The ensuing conversation between the orchestra and soloist also has a demonic character which is only briefly alleviates by a secondary theme in A flat major for the pianist. After a repetition of the first section, the second part of Benoit’s scherzo structure has a devilish momentum, redolent of the finale of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Liszt’s Mephisto Waltzes, in which the force of the hunt refuses to be quelled. Indeed, as the sense of chaos builds, Benoit begins to make reference to the opening horn call with its menacing connotations of tragedy. It is with this theme in combination with the other principal ideas of the movement that C minor is finally restored in a riotous close for the orchestra and soloist, depicting the final disappearance of Harelbeke’s noble castle.'

Jeremy Dibble