CD Review

Going Dutch


© Chris Green, November 2010


On the British side of the North Sea there is a saying: "Going Dutch" means the cost of something is shared. Well, this CD review is sharing the pleasure with you of discovering music composed by Dutch composers, performed by Dutch performers or just dedicated to the Dutch - from a British perspective.

So let me start with performers of whom I was well aware: Kathleen Ferrier (contralto), the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Otto Klemperer. The only soloist of whom I had little recall was Dutch soloist Jo Vincent. She was a regular performer during the period between the World Wars, but the recording in which she features was made in 1951 as part of the Holland Festival. Ferrier was in the finest of voices for Mahler's Symphony No 2 (Resurrection). By that time she was critically ill, and the marvel is that the performance has such radiance. 6 July 1951 must be remembered as yielding one of the greatest of Mahler performances in which the Concertgebouw was joined by the Amsterdam Toonkunstkoor, and the CD together with its accompanying booklet has been put together with obvious loving care for release on the Guild label (Guild GHCD 2210).

Another Dutch soprano features in French music with the late Robert Shaw conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Elly Ameling is also in glorious voice for this 1985 Telarc recording of Berlioz's song cycle Les Nuits d'été and the orchestra completes the release with the four movements form the suite of incidental music Faure composed for Pelléas et Melisande (Telarc CD-80084).  Ameling made her US début in1968, and yet never seemed to make an impact on the major recording studios compared with some of her contemporaries. Yet she has a voice which is glacial and suits this kind of repertoire which, together with Telarc's usual high definition recording, makes the release a recording that needs to be retained in the catalogue even if Telarc distribution can be somewhat erratic.

Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916) is, as far as I was concerned, a totally unknown quantity: that is until I was sent a double-CD featuring four symphonies by him. A friend of Brahms, this makes itself only too apparent in the orchestral textures. Conservative music it may be, but there is a sure grasp of the orchestral palette and of the four, each is different in spirit - not in the same way as, say, the symphonies of contemporary Mahler, but never do they outstay their welcome. The link with Holland? Well, Gernsheim was Kapellmester in Rotterdam period between 1975 and 1895, and it was during that period that these works got their premieres. The Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz may not be in the top league of German orchestras, but they make a strong case for these four works. Siegfried Kohler conducts (Arte Nova 74321 63635-2).

Which finally brings me to the real thing - a Dutch composer and Dutch orchestra. The Residentie Orchestra of The Hague is gradually rising in reputation after a number of years in the shadow of its more illustrious Amsterdam neighbour. Under the baton of Matthias Bamert, they play three overtures and a symphony by Johannes Josephus Hermanus Verhulst (1816-1891), and this is a real discovery for me. Again, Verhulst is indebted to Brahms whose influence is distinct in the bustling counterpoint and broad melodies, but from the first bars of the opening Overture in B minor, Op 2, this is vigorous, meaty music and the writer of the CD booklet rightly questions why a composer such as Verhulst is unlikely to have featured in British programmes, whereas composers from Britain of the same period such as Elgar and Parry might be programmed more frequently in mainland Europe? There is no answer to that. Maybe had Verrhulst given some names to these overtures, they might be remembered but what a poor excuse. Shame on us! (Chandos CHAN 10179)