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Hendrik Andriessen – Great But Neglected C...

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This is the third release in CPO’s series of the symphonic works of Hendrik Andriessen (1892–1981), who was better known in his lifetime as a musicologist and church organist.

In 1942 the Nazis held Andriessen hostage for five months, and upon his release he began composing his Symphony No. 3, the premiere of which he conducted with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1946. The symphony is a tonal work, certainly in comparison with his previous two symphonies — tuneful and lyrical, at once involving, with an airy, open quality, more a showpiece than his usual contemplative work. Still, this is music that broods on every page. Sadly, this is one of those neglected treasures that collectors enjoy unearthing from time to time. I know I did.

In structure, the Overture serves as a lengthy introduction to the second movement, Sonata. The following Saraband evokes Renaissance dance themes and is the emotional center of the work. The final movement, Fuga, sums up themes from the preceding movements, its main subject full of dervish energy and gnarled thematic material. It’s in this movement that Andriessen shows genuine compositional chops with his deft use of counterpoint, broad orchestral coloring, and multiple themes and variations. Dutch conductor David Porcelijn turns in a very detailed and penetrating reading of this symphony.

Andriessen composed his Symphonic Concertante in 1962 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Noord-Hollands Philharmonisch Orkest. The title of the piece describes the composer’s way of playing one instrumental group against another, deliberately contrasting tonalities and overlaying groups of themes. In keeping with Andriessen’s usual style, the outer first (Andante – Allegro) and third (Andante – Allegro energico) movements are in the composer’s Neoclassical manner. Genuine experimentation takes place in the central slow movement (Tema con variazione), which is a series of Baroque dance variations on a theme by Adrianus Valerius, an early 17-century Dutch poet and composer. The variations are spins on separate dance forms: gavotte, sarabande, bourée, pavane, aria, menuetto, perspired, and polonaise. Each variation is presented with almost no modernization; and unlike at least one reviewer, I find that as a whole the variations mesh quite well. They could have been somewhat detached and academic, but these variations are served well by Andriessen’s laconic approach — with the result that the movement is delightful from beginning to end. The first and third movements are akin to 18-cnetury symphonic movements, where the theme and variations are in the middle, especially the third movement with its robust dance themes rising to a rollicking finale. The addition of “Concertante” to the title is well earned: the woodwinds and the brass have prominent roles, as do the solo violin and harp in the enticing aria.

The program ends with Chantecler Overture, which is based on a once-popular theater play of the same name by the 19th-century French playwright Edmond Rostand, about a humanlike rooster who dislikes the pretensions of city life and prefers the simple life of the country. He particularly delights in the idea of awakening people at dawn. The piece begins with a tonally edgy depiction of night. The appearance of Chantecler is announced with the addition of a short horn motif. The chickens are heard in the pecking pizzicato strings. For me, this piece is a disappointment and left little impression. Perhaps Porcelijn could have been less placid in his approach and amped the pace up a bit.

This disc is a pleasant surprise from a composer whose work deserves to be more often heard. For listeners unfamiliar with Andriessen’s work, the Third Symphony is the best introduction to his symphonic world, while the Symphonic Concertante gives a good sense of his typical icy, Nordic style.