Andrew Palmer, Group Editor

Classical Music: Jongen - Préludes for Piano

Joseph Jongen
13 Préludes, Op. 69 (1922);
24 Petits Préludes dans tous les tons, Op. 116 (1940-41)

Chandos: CHAN 20264

A revelation! As an organist, I am familiar with Belgian composer Joseph Jongen and his plethora of organ works, the instrument he is chiefly associated with.

However, this disc has revealed a compelling discovery thanks to Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilić, who has helped redress the balance with this new recording of two of Jongen’s substantial sets of Préludes for piano.

The 13 Préludes, Op. 69 are expansive in nature and extremely poetic – each bears an evocative title such as ‘Anxiety, ‘Nostalgic’, ‘Tenderness’, ‘Black Butterflies’, and ‘Festive Tunes’, which gives them a sense of expressive and touching warmth. They are dedicated to Émile Bosquet who gave their première, in 1923.

The 24 Petits Préludes dans tous les tons were begun in 1940 and (like Bach’s preludes and fugues) circle through each and every key, major and minor. Arranged in twelve pairs, the minor key following the major on the same tonic note, these works reflect Jongen’s affinity for (and mastery of) their free form, as well as demonstrating his mature compositional style.

Jongen won a First Prize for fugue in 1895 and honours diplomas in piano and organ the next year. In 1897, he won the Belgian Prix de Rome, which allowed him to travel to Italy, Germany, and France, where he experienced the music of Brahms and Richard Strauss, Fauré, Debussy, and Ravel, all of which would exert an influence on the young composer and which Ilić powerfully communicates.

Ivan Ilić’s striking and nuanced playing is marvellous, demonstrating his understanding of Jongen’s compositional style by bringing out all the detail, delicious harmonies and rhythmic refinement. His acumen shines through with excellent phrasing and technique.

Chandos and Ilić have made the classical music CD catalogues richer with this release.