The Dutch composer and conductor, Jan van Gilse (1881-1944) was born in Rotterdam and studied at the Cologne conservatory with Franz Wüllner (1832-1902) before moving to Berlin to study with Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921). He later undertook study in Italy before, in 1901, receiving the Beethoven-Haus Prize in Bonn for his Second Symphony. It was his Third Symphony, 'Erhebung' (Elevation) for soprano solo and orchestra that won him the German Michael Beer Prize, the foremost music award of the time.
van Gilse was appointed conductor at the Bremen opera, a post which was followed by appointments in Munich and Amsterdam. After the breakout of the First World War he moved back to the Netherlands. From 1917 until 1922, he was the conductor of the Utrecht Municipal Orchestra.
During the Second World War van Gilse became actively involved with the resistance movement against the German occupation of the Netherlands. After both his resistance fighter sons were killed, van Gilse and his wife were forced to go into hiding. In August 1944 the composer was admitted to hospital suffering from cancer where he died shortly after. He was buried under an assumed name in order to protect his wife.
Among his works are five symphonies, the last of which survives only in a fragment; other orchestral works; two operas; a number of chamber pieces and a number of cantatas.
CPO www.jpc.de/jpcng/cpo/home have already recorded the four completed symphonies of van Gilse with the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra www.ovho.nl/generic_tmp/over-het-symfonieorkest conducted by David Porcelijn www.patrickgarvey.com/artists/david-porelijn.html . Now they have released van Gilse’s Piano Concerto coupled with his Variations on a Saint-Nicolas Song performed by the same artists with pianist, Oliver Triendl.
Jan van Gilse’s Piano Concerto ‘Drei Tanzskizzen’ (Three Dance Sketches) dates from 1925–26 and has important parts for violin and cello, played on this recording by Carla Leurs (violin) http://carlaleurs.wix.com/home and René Geesing (cello) www.ovho.nl/musici/1332942636 .
Tempo di Menuetto moderato opens with a hushed string line to which the celeste and piano add a motif, immediately taken by the piano. The orchestra moves ahead developing the theme and bringing some lovely fluent phrases, working playfully around the orchestra. There are some fine rhythmic, flowing string passages as well as many fine transparent and sparkling orchestral textures pointed up by the celeste. This is music that is full of charm and good humour, freely tonal with some lovely shifting harmonies. van Gilse creates lovely delicate effects for piano and celeste together and orchestral passages that are full of glittering instrumental detail. There is a lovely buoyant piano part with, later, a tambourine pointing up the piano and orchestra before a coda that has a rather fairyland quality. Overall this is a really enchanting movement.
The piano leaps in with some strong chords as the second movement, Hommage à Johann Strauss, is dramatically introduced, interspersed with upward scales. Oliver Triendl provides some exceptionally fine playing as he moves through a speeding descending passage. The music lightens and quietens as the theme is developed more gently by the soloist until finding a waltz rhythm and dancing lightly and gently forward. The piano introduces some lovely variations on the waltz theme before the orchestra takes the theme bringing a lighter feel. The music moves through many orchestral variations, all full of buoyancy and life in a lighter vein with some particularly good harmonies as the theme is varied. Later the piano re-enters to drive the theme more forcefully ahead, reaching a dynamic pitch.
The cello of René Geesing adds a slower, sad variation to which a bassoon then trumpet add colour before the piano brings a more languid version with the waltz rhythm lurking just behind. The piano and orchestra speed to another climax before the celeste and orchestra bring another variation to which the cello joins. There are many varied waltz rhythms as well as a delicate passage where the piano skips over the orchestra before brass and strings weave a constantly shifting harmony. The music speeds to a peak before quietening to allow a small string ensemble to gently waltz forward joined by woodwind to find a sudden dynamic coda.
This movement is perhaps a little too long but full of variety and fine variations.
The final movement, Quasi Jazz opens with a massive drum roll immediately followed by the entry of the piano in a fast and furious theme to which the xylophone joins. The orchestra joins as the theme begins to slow and a trumpet introduces a new variation that reveals itself as a tango rhythm. Woodwind bring moments that could be by Villa Lobos before the music finds a more luscious swaying variation in the orchestra over which a piano dances. There is an exotic feel in the orchestra with orchestral sonorities that create the sound of a jazz orchestra. Strong piano chords prelude a solo from violinist, Carla Leurs, over a hushed orchestra but soon becomes a lone solo that takes more of the form of a substantial cadenza for violin. Eventually the music picks up in tempo in the orchestra, full of vibrancy and jazzy inflections, with some brash brass interventions before the piano joins as van Gilse finally remembers that this is a piano concerto. The piano becomes more forceful as, with the orchestra it heads to a coda on a series of firm orchestral chords.
This is an inventive and well-orchestrated work that, nevertheless, could do with a little pruning. Many will still find it attractive.
The Variaties over een St. Nikolaasliedje (Variations on a Saint-Nicolas Song) dates from 1908. The variations open with a theme that is immediately varied before a wind ensemble slowly takes the music forward. Strings soon bring a leisurely, flowing variation leading to a beautifully nuanced variation reminiscent of Richard Strauss with all of his little drooping phrases. There is a jauntier little variation, nicely varied in the orchestration before the music picks up in tempo and dynamics. A slow melancholy variation follows before there are some lovely flute arabesques over the orchestra. Later a cor-anglais brings a lovely variation soon woven around a clarinet. A fanfare brings a vibrant, rhythmically pointed variation and there are further rather Straussian passages before a playful little variation for woodwind and strings arrives. Eventually there is a fast and furious variation before broadening to take the music to a stately, decisive coda.
Pianist, Oliver Triendl and the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra under David Porcelijn prove fine advocates of this music which doesn’t plumb any depths but is full of many attractive variations. It is true that these works could do with a little editing but they are interesting by-ways of 20th century Dutch music.
These artists are finely recorded at the Enschede Musikzentrum, Netherlands and there are informative notes, largely on the composer and his life rather than the music.