Ivan Ilic’s latest discovery: Belgian Joseph Jongen
The piano music of Belgian composer Joseph Jongen is rapidly emerging from obscurity where it has reposed since his death in 1953. One of the champions of this rebirth is the Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilic who acknowledges he discovered Jongen only by accident. Researching early 20th century music, he recalls, “somehow Jongen appeared on my radar.” He quickly dived into archives in Belgium and became immersed in Jongen’s prolific output.
Ilic has just released his recoding of Jongen’s “Préludes” and “Petits Préludes” (Chandos 20264), a sampling of the composer’s output and his rich palette of styles and colors.
Jongen’s mastery of the subject that he taught at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, fugue and counterpoint, is evident in several of these fascinating pieces.
The CD has been widely admired and reviewed by critics around Europe. One London music writer praises Ilic for his “imperturbale authority and sympathy” for this music.
The groupings of Préludes and Petits Préludes are analyzed in rich musicological detail rarely seen in CD booklets, written by notable French author and radio producer Marc Vignal.
The 13 Preludes, Vignal notes, echo with references to great composers of his era. Evocatively titled, Jongen labeled them with such descriprives as “Anxiety”, “Nostalgia”, “Torment” and “Fesstive Melodies”. Ilic has played Jongen privately for friends without identifying him by name and listeners have guessed Rachmaninoff, Scarlatti, Debussy, Ravel, Gabriel Fauré and César Franck.
As Ilic has written, Jongen did not feel that everything had to be in his personal style. In homage to past greats, “He was very happy to borrow.” One French critic advises music-lovers to listen slowly to Jongen’s subtle harmonic inflections. He likened the impact to “tasting a marvelous new fruit”.
The second half of the CD is devoted to the 24 Petits Preludes, each title lasting only one or two minutes. But the collection is “just as colofully varied” as the Préludes, Vignal writes. Again Jongen played with the tiitles such as “Confidence”, “Sadness”, “Scarlattiana”, and “Black Keys”.
Ilic laments the manner in which international regognition bypassed Jongen him in his lifetime. If he had been born in France instead of Belgiium, his music might have been studied by tens of thousands of music students. “Instead,” Ilic notes,” he is alomost compldetely forgotten outside of Belgium.”
Ilic is poised to change all that.
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