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Jongen: 13 Preludes etc

Ivan Ilić (piano) (Chandos)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

13 Préludes; Petits Préludes dans tous les tons
Ivan Ilić (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20264   75:18 mins


Joseph Jongen doesn’t ring many bells these days, and Chandos’s album of his works for piano fills a sizeable gap in the recorded repertoire. Born in Liège in 1873, he was a keyboard prodigy, and was allowed by special dispensation to enter the city’s conservatoire when still only seven years old. There he won prizes for fugue, piano and organ, and at 22 won the Belgian Premier Grand prix for Rome with a cantata he had composed; that prize put him on travels to Berlin, Bayreuth, Munich and Paris, in the course of which he met d’Indy and his hero Ravel, and became friends with Florent Schmitt before the latter’s espousal of Nazism.

Jongen was also a noted teacher, which accounts for the character of the 37 Preludes under review, many of which are little more than a minute long. Eighteen years separate the composition of these two sets of pieces, and it’s clear that the intervening time allowed his compositional gift to ripen. He doesn’t ever repeat himself, but the first set come over like keyboard exercises, while the pieces of the later set, for all their brevity, have a pleasing vividness.

It’s to Jongen’s credit that he sometimes acknowledges his debts, but after a while one gets tired of pastiche, especially when it goes on a bit. Echoes of Ravel and Debussy are almost omnipresent, but other influences writ large include those of Bach, Chopin, Franck, Scarlatti and Prokofiev. Ivan Ilić plays impeccably throughout.


Michael Church