If you have ever lamented that Franck's mature chamber music includes only the Piano Quartet, the String Quartet, and the Violin Sonata (in transcriptions, it seems, for everything from flute and cello to flexatone and Hungarian nose flute), then this CD is for YOU. The present works typify Jongen's early Franckian style. At this point, his music had not yet acquired the slight glint of Ravel/Roussel that characterizes his later work.
The Piano Quartet is a massive affair, nearly 50 minutes in length. It is in four movements, and even has a scherzo! Herein, Franck rubs elbows with Faure and Chausson, and Brahms is in the next room. Large-limbed harmonic movements in the introduction promise a work on a Brucknerian time-scale, and that expectation is not thwarted. At the start, stern piano octaves, reminiscent of Franck at his most foreboding, alternate with conciliatory statements from the strings. The succeeding movements are densely packed with contrapuntal detail, suggesting a rich brocade, constantly demanding all of the listener's attention, yet the effect is not suffocating. There is no lack of warmly appealing melody as the composer skillfully draws one's ears from one strand to another.
The Piano Trio, composed for the somewhat unusual combination of piano, violin and VIOLA (instead of the expected cello), is similar in style, but the sensuousness of Chausson, D'Indy and late Faure are closer now. There are more whole-tone harmonies, and something of the breezily tuneful side of Jongen's personal style emerges in the finale. As in the Quartet, sometimes the instrumental writing is rich in contrapuntal overlay, and sometimes the strings are set off in unison against the keyboard.
To be honest, I can imagine more intense and abandoned performances than the present ones. However, Ms. Andersen and her cronies are technically proficient players. This is lucky, because there ARE no other recordings. Carping aside, these performances are thoroughly pleasurable, but the five stars are really more for the music itself.
COLLECTORS' ADVICE: 2003 marked the 50th anniversary of the composer's death, and quite a few recordings were made by labels like CYPRES and PAVANE. Unfortunately, a mere six years later, these releases are being deleted with alarming abruptness. Vol.1 of Ms. Andersen's series of the complete piano music is almost unobtainable, although Vol.2 is still fairly easy to find. Fans of late 19th to early 20th-century French romantics should waste no time in snatching up as much of Jongen's voluptuous stuff as they can before the remaining copies disappear.