Bernard van Dieren: 'Chinese' Symphony

Bernard van Dieren: 'Chinese' Symphony

by William Boughton


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Bernard van Dieren: 'Chinese' Symphony

The Lyrita label has specialized in neglected British repertoire, and in this case the main work involved, the "Symphony No. 1 (Chinese), Op. 6," of Bernard van Dieren has never been recorded before at all, although it was broadcast once on the BBC in 1935. Van Dieren was born in the Netherlands, but worked mostly in Britain. He got romantically involved with a female student of Busoni, chased her to London, attended the premiere of a Busoni opera along the way, and apparently picked up the most contemporary trends in Continental music. The "Chinese" aspect of the "Symphony No. 1" refers not to thematic material, but to the texts of the eight connected sections (the fifth, "Interludio," is orchestral, but has a poem attached to it). The texts come from the volume Die chinesische Flöte, a book of Tang Dynasty poetry translated into German by Hans Bethge. The popularity of this book in Germany merits investigation; the poems were set by Schoenberg, Webern, and other composers, but their most famous setting came from Mahler in "Das Lied von der Erde." The detailed notes by Alastair Chisholm here state that it's unclear whether van Dieren knew Mahler's work, but the fact that only one poem is shared between the two works, plus the sheer scope of van Dieren's symphony, would seem to suggest that he did. The orchestra is vast, but the harmonic content is closer to the Schoenberg period just before he turned to serialism than to Mahler, with lots of free polyphony and murky textures that often reflect the senses of the poetry remarkably well. Sample the "Duettino," where the soprano and tenor sing different poems, as if in a dialogue, but also together at times; the scoring of this section is lovely and does not really resemble the work of any other composer (although here and elsewhere Frederick Delius is perhaps another inspiration). The two shorter works included on the album are markedly more tonal in style; the "Introit to Topers' Tropes Les Propos des Beuveurs after Rabelais" (an orchestral prelude to a larger work that never came to fruition) brings to mind some of Sibelius' theater music. The soloists in the "Chinese Symphony," especially soprano Rebecca Evans, are all very strong, but really the most remarkable accomplishment here is that of the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales under conductor William Boughton: if you've ever wondered whether a modern orchestra could learn a score of Mahlerian dimensions from scratch and pull it off convincingly, wonder no more. This release will be welcomed by those interested in the Continental scene of the early 20th century and likely unaware that Schoenberg and Mahler had a Dutch-British fellow traveler.

Product Details

Release Date: 11/11/2016
Label: Lyrita
UPC: 5020926035721
catalogNumber: 357
Rank: 101563


  1. Elegy for cello & orchestra
  2. Les Propos des Beuveurs, after Rabelais, introit for orchestra
  3. Symphony No. 1, for soloists, chorus & orchestra ("Chinese Symphony"), Op. 6

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