Arturo Tamayo / Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra

Daniel Sternefeld: Symphony No. 1; Mater Dolorosa

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Though little known outside of his native country, Daniel Sternefeld was one of the most prominent Flemish composers of his generation. His compositions were not numerous, but dealt with substantial, often dark subject matter, and they were greatly influenced by the likes of Stravinsky and Bartók in particular. Vol. 9 of Et'Cetera's Flemish Connection series opens with Four Interludes and Finale from Sternefeld's successful opera Mater Dolorosa. Each of the five sections deal with emotions of tragedy and loss: pain, tears, agony, war, and resignation. Despite the subject matter, the Suite is not entirely oppressive, containing many memorable, tender moments. The First Symphony of 1943 (the so-called "War" Symphony) indeed deals with war and tragedy yet again. The tyrannical, harsh first movement is eventually transformed into the bright, victorious atmosphere of the third and final movement. The program ends with a solemn setting of Kol Nidrei -- the Jewish prayer uttered before the day of atonement -- and finally a bright, sunny set of Variations on "Frêre Jacques." Performing these sometimes heavy works is the Brussels Philharmonic under Arturo Tamayo. The orchestra does an admirable job of capturing the intense emotions of Sternefeld's music without making them overwrought. The brass section of the orchestra in particular is put to the test throughout the program and delivers a powerful, controlled, boisterous sound. Some intonation difficulties can be heard in the upper strings from time to time, but this does not seriously detract from an otherwise gripping performance of undeservedly neglected repertoire.

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