Eclipse, Vol. 2 - Spee
trptk TTK 0102
Sonatina for piano
Adagio & Variations
Concerto for piano and strings, Op. 1
Andante con moto
Sonata for piano
Intermezzi composed by Mattias Spee
South Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
There are many treasures to be discovered in the history of music. If you are just a little bit curious, a boundless world opens up, full of hidden gems, that the general audience is not aware of. It is one of my big passions to look for those treasures and to shine a light on them. This passion led me to make a series of albums entitled Eclipse, featuring music that nobody knows, but everyone should know. Around the time we released the first volume of this series, with music by Joseph Wölfl, I was approached by conductor Ed Spanjaard. He was in the process of setting up a foundation in order to restore the legacy of Dutch pianist/composer Hans Henkemans to its proper status and he wanted a young pianist, who was open-minded towards unknown repertoire, to be involved with the foundation. Most of those involved, were people who had known Henkemans personally and, as Henkemans died before I was born, they were from an older generation than myself. My involvement was to show the next generation of musicians the way towards Hans Henkemans’s music.
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - May 15, 2023
A label that continues to operate at the sharp end of recording quality, needs all the support it can muster from the niche that appreciates only the best of the best. And perhaps even more important, this new release is of a similar musical quality as was the first in the series “Eclipse”. We should, therefore, double-count our blessings.
In this second, the young and versatile Dutch pianist, Mattias Spee, embarks once more on highlighting a composer very few people may have heard of: His fellow countryman, Hans Henkemans. Besides being a medical graduate and psychiatrist, he also was an eminent pianist. I once had an LP (vinyl as it is called now) on which he played Mozart Piano concerti (LP, CBS Masterworks – MBK 44865) accompanied by the Amsterdam Chamber Orchestra under … hold your breath: André Rieu. No, not him, his father, who was at the time Chef of a Dutch provincial orchestra, the Limburg Symphony Orchestra (LSO). Is it of any importance? Maybe not, but it does add some ‘couleur locale’. Because, since then, and economics obliging, the LSO had to merge with another provincial orchestra of the Southern half of the Netherlands: The Brabant Orchestra, continuing under its new name: The South Netherlands Philharmonic (Philharmonie Zuid Nederland). This is the orchestra playing in this release under the baton of Ed Spanjaard, who succeeded André Rieu on the rostrum of the disbanded LSO. How small this world is.
I had never heard any of Henkemans’s compositions before. What I did know was that he walked on a different musical track than the Dutch avant-garde. These reformers were held in high esteem by all those who wanted to show the Joneses that they belonged to and understood the change of times. Why did Henkemans disappear from musical life? Mattias’s liner notes triggered my interest. Reason enough to delve a bit deeper into what had happened.
In the sixties of the previous century, a lot of doubtful character was produced by Dutch composers jumping the innovating bandwagon. Thankfully, much of it, seen at the time of having monumental importance, turned out to be ill-advised experiments and is now forgotten. But the rift was deeper. The hardcore called themselves “The Nutcrackers”. They used music as a provocative instrument against an establishment which had to be toppled. Something like the barricades in Paris in the same period (1968). What to think of a composition requiring the conductor to leave the rostrum halfway through the piece and let the musicians (freed of authority?) continue on their own? Possible with a handful, but a symphony orchestra quickly turns into chaos. It led them to seek other ways to promote their provocative rather than innovative expressions (?)
In the eyes of Henkemans, their innovations were musically destructive. It may be noted here that ‘nutcracker’ actually is an incorrect translation of the Dutch ‘Notenkraker’. In the Dutch language, the word ‘noot’ means ‘nut’ as well as ‘note’. We may, therefore, assume that the avant-garde sought to ‘crack’ existing compositional structures. That may be so, but they were deeply hurt when erudite Henkemans openly called their music ‘sonic’ rather than music. Maybe not very diplomatic, but, on the other hand, these composers, their egos probably thoroughly hurt, thought they had, in turn, the right to insult and sabotage Henkemans as soloist and composer to the point of having him completely removed (erased!) from musical life.
Writing music in protest is one thing, ‘killing’ a disagreeing colleague is quite another. Time will tell to what extent said composers will survive. It is clear that as yet none of them has reached the level of, say, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Krzysztof Penderecki or Sofia Goubaïdoulina (for a gender-balanced account).
Although having experimented with atonal music as well, Henkemans had an aversion towards experimentalism for the sake of it. He firmly believed that the existing musical language had not yet become obsolete. The proof is here. Matthias Spree and all those who collaborated in producing this testament are doing us a great favour by allowing us to familiarise ourselves with a composer that continued to put musical values over political motives. And there is perhaps no greater compliment than Garrick Ohlson (winner of the 1970 International Chopin Contest) playing Henkemans’s Third Piano Concerto (1992), with The Hague Philharmonic.
Henkemans was a fan of Debussy and some of it shines through in the Sonatina, with which the programme opens. Spree is a talented and multi-faceted pianist and his commitment to Henkemans piano oeuvre is clearly audible in the way he portrays the score. As he does in the Sonata with which his recital concludes. Respectfully uncovering, like a psychiatrist (!) the strands of the complexities of a patient.
In terms of orchestral pleasure, the Concerto for Piano and Strings Op. 1 is the central element of this release. Here, Ed Spanjaard joins in, conducting an orchestra, or better, its strings, with inspirational perfection, showing how a local band can contribute to a levelling up of musical standards in The Netherlands. A pleasant surprise on all counts, not least because it convinced me that where Henkemans serves the music, a Nutcracker is only at its best with a couple of nuts.
With this recording, Spree and Spanjaard have rescued a Dutch composer that was not only unjustly neglected but also purposefully removed from the music scene. However, it may take some time before Henkemans will be fully reinstated in a position he ought to have had: An noteworthy exponent of Dutch cultural tradition in the 20th century.
Do I have to mention that Brendon Heinst stands for the best-sounding high-resolution possible? Do listen for yourself.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
Copyright © 2023 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net
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Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - May 15, 2023 (1 of 1)
Thank you Adrian for your review! Of course, I agree, this is a wonderful release. I've listened to it many times now since downloading the DXD 352.8/32 surround version. I thought I would offer my own thoughts.
Sonics: Brendon used his new technique, recording in DSD 256 and Master in DXD 352.8/64. In my opinion, it really paid off. Spee's piano sounds fantastic on my system, properly centered and robust. The strings are arranged in a semi circle behind Spee. That's the way it sounds. It certainly has a broad and deep soundstage.
Music: My favorite is the Concerto. Right from the first notes, you know you are in for something special. The interplay between piano and strings is delightful. The rest of the album gives Spee an opportunity to dazzle us with musical artistry including his own compositions.
As an aside, as I was listening again this morning, I thought how lucky we are to have available talented sound engineers and such magnificent technology to reproduce music. It brings the music, indeed faithfully reproducing the instruments, into my Livingroom.