LODEWIJK MORTELMANS: Homerische symfonie; Morgenstemming; Mythe der lente – Royal Flemish Philharmonic / Martyn Brabbins – Hyperion

by | Oct 20, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

LODEWIJK MORTELMANS:  Homerische symfonie;  Morgenstemming;  Mythe der lente – Royal Flemish Philharmonic / Martyn Brabbins – Hyperion CDA67766, 66:46 ****1/2 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:

Lodewijk Mortelmans (1868–1952) belongs to a select group of Flemish composers who contributed much to late romantic orchestral music from the end of the nineteenth century onwards. The names Mortelmans, De Boeck, Blockxx and Brusselmans among others will be well-known to perusers of Marco Polo’s lists, as well as those of the Discovery label, without whom these composers would have, until now, remained footnotes in musical history.

In 1893 Mortelmans won a prestigious music prize in Belgium and used the money accompanying the prize to widen his horizons in Germany and Italy, and later founded a music society in Antwerp which invited guests such as Richter, Strauss and Mahler. It would be a mistake to categorise Mortelmans and his circle as parochial and insular, as Tom Janssens in his extensive and excellent essay in the accompanying booklet makes clear.

“Mythe der lente” (Myth of Spring) was written in 1895 with references to Edda (as is Jon Leif’s monumental work, Part 1 of which is available on a BIS SACD), portraying the waking of Gerda after the winter sleep and meeting her bridegroom, Freya.

By 1898 Mortelmans had completed his substantial Homeric Symphony, a 45 minute cornucopia of late romantic delights. With Wagnerian and Straussian inspiration the composer’s command of orchestration is impressive, with some especially fine writing for horns. There’s a grand first movement, followed by a second slow movement with heartfelt memories of Patroklos’s death. The contrast in the third movement is startling, a gossamer-light scherzo depicting the Sirens playing and singing, Janssens finding this rather less successful than I did. It’s a gorgeous sound, and beautifully played, too. A fine, triumphant fourth movement completes this interesting and diverting work.

“Morgenstemming” (Morning Mood) completes the CD’s programme, a later work from 1922, the first orchestral work Mortelmans completed after the Homeric Symphony. This is a more abstract, more Delian less Wagnerian work, Mortlemans’ equivalent of Nielsen’s Helios Overture.

This CD marks a new departure for Hyperion, starting their link with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic under their relatively new principal guest conductor but old Hyperion hand Martyn Brabbins. This is a fine orchestra, capable of silky smooth string playing where necessary, and excellent in all departments. Brabbins steers a clear path avoiding the mundane on the one hand, and the over-egged romantic hysteria on the other, and his orchestra, from the end result, seem to me to have enjoyed the music making hugely. These are no idle run-throughs – ensemble is tight, dynamics are carefully graded and the result is some intense music-making.

Recorded on three days in September last year in the Queen Elisabeth Hall, Antwerp, the sound quality is generally excellent, the hall having generous and warm acoustics so apt for this music which needs space in which to expand. This release is the first of a series, further issues in which I look forward to immensely.


Homerische symfonie Homeric Symphony [43’13]

1 Van de helden Of the heroes [11’00]

2 Herinneringen aan Patroklos’ dood Memories of Patroklos’s death [11’47]

3 Sirenengespeel en gezang Sirens playing and singing [11’41]

4 De genius van Hellas The genius of Hellas [8’44]

5 Morgenstemming Morning Mood [12’42]

6 Mythe der lente Myth of Spring [10’47]
— Peter Joelson

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