My pessimistic nature generally leads me to expect little, and to anticipate objectionable music, when faced with new recordings of works by hitherto overlooked, ignored,
or unjustly unexplored composers. But pessimism has the bonus effect of generating an extra dividend of pleasant surprise when hearing, for the first time, music of
premium quality. Such is the case with the orchestral works of Dutch composer Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981). Now if, on the other hand, you're
an optimist, always expecting sweeping melodies and beauty on every page, you are in for a major bummer.
Hendrik Andriessen's writing is brief in form and small in gesture but comprehensive in scope and quality. Never exalted or grand, but nonetheless
always strong and expressive. He makes up for the lack of melodic invention with a keen sense of development and structure. By the time you've reached the end of one
of his pieces, you know how he got there. The Symphony No. 1 brings to mind the orchestral style of Bartok, while the darker and more
advanced Symphonic Etude reminds one, ever so slightly, of Karl Amadeus Hartmann. And right out of left field, the final movement of
the Ballet Suite bears heavy resemblance to Gustav Mahler's most cynical Ländleresque moments. And despite the fact that
beautiful melodies were not part of his vocabulary, he certainly knew how to find and utilize them to wonderful effect, as illustrated in his Variations and
Fugue on a theme of Johann Kuhnau. Kuhnau was one of Bach's predecessors, and Andriessen manages to pull one of his best melodies right into the
20th century and mold and wield it into something quite expressive.
Aside from one other recording on the Etcetera label, I believe this is the only available recording of the orchestral works by this fine composer. And the
Netherlands Symphony Orchestra under the direction of David Porcelijn bring his music across with just as much conviction as
if they were playing an old favorite. If you like to explore the music of composers on the outer periphery of the catalogue, as I do, then don't miss out on this outstanding
issue of a long ignored master.