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Defossez: Images sous-marines

February 19, 2010

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

The National Orchestra of Belgium
(L’Orchestre nationale de Belgique; Het Nationaal Orkest van Belgie)
Under the Direction of the Composer

René Defossez: Images sous-marines

1. Matin transparent
2. Tragique festin au Benthos (fond de l’océan)
3. Le plancton en fête

Contemporary Belgian music: now there’s a specialty worth earning a doctorate in. This is a bit of a departure from the previous features here, having been released on a 10-inch LP after the Second World War. But it has never been released in the United States, as far as I know, and it has probably never been re-released anywhere. By both EU and US rules, it has therefore fallen out of copyright, but it deserves not to be forgotten.

“René Defossez” (the liner notes say in French and Flemish) “is best known as a conductor, but many of his works have achieved lasting success.” They go on to credit him with a concerto for violin and orchestra, a concerto for piano and orchestra, two symphonies, a comic opera, an oratorio called “The Triumph of Eros,” and numerous chamber works. Of all these, the violin concerto seems to be the only one still in circulation in recorded form. Otherwise, notwithstanding the notes, “lasting success” seems to have eluded Defossez.

That’s a pity, because this is absolutely delightful music. If you have always wished that Debussy had written more orchestral works, this is for you. You might even say it’s an imitation of Debussy; but it’s a good imitation, and original enough not to be a slavish imitation.

Images sous-marines (“Undersea Pictures”) are three “evocative and impressionistic” pieces, as the notes again explain:

1. Matin transparent (“A Clear Morning”): The rays of sunshine light up the flora and fauna of the sea, bathing everything in a sweet laziness.

2. Tragique festin au Benthos (fond de l’océan) (“Tragic Feast of the Depths”): In the night, the carnage among the creatures at the bottom of the sea fades into the silence of the depths.

3. Le Plancton en fête (“Festival of the Plankton”): The graceful and happy dance of thousands of fish.

The performance is very good. Defossez was a conductor with whom these musicians were very familiar; he gets exactly what he wants out of them. The sound is crisp and clear, though a little dead for modern tastes.

A few more of these forgotten mid-century contemporary Belgians will be showing up here later on, thanks to a small stash found at a local bookstore.

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