Christy Luth (Soprano)
George Beentjes (Piano)
The self-styled Gentleman Composer George Beentjes has two recordings currently available of his songs for piano and soloist. Ewigkeit, the current release, is actually a re-issue and full remastering of an earlier disc (Infinity, 2017) that is now out of print, but it is a most welcome re-release as I had previously been unfamiliar with some of the works here. Beentjes is a curious, but endearing figure in contemporary music, with his compositional gaze fixed firmly on music of the 19th century, writing mostly Germanic lieder for the 21st century. I have made mention before of George’s performative aspects when in live events. It is not uncommon for the composer-pianist and his singers to adopt elements of period costume for the events, complementing the perhaps slightly nostalgic view of romanticised music and poetry. However, these aspects are also reflexive and not mere affectation hinting at a deeper concern with how such styles can work in dialogue with more modern tastes and idioms.
The nocturnal enchanted atmosphere of the songs here is established right from the off. Schilflieder, with a text by Nikolaus Lenau opens with delicate sparse chords before the flowing melody is taken up by soprano Christy Luth. Melodies are not alway very predictable in this selection, but Luth navigates these complexities beautifully. Especially well executed on the soprano’s part is the conclusion to track 3 Sterne mit den goldnen Füschen, concluding with a sudden tonal shift on the word “Nachtigall” or nightingale, floated with all the grace of the bird referenced in the text!
Of course the pianist has plenty to do here as well, and one wonders if Beentjes is a glutton for punishment considering some of what he has given himself to do in accompanying these songs, particularly on display in the more densely accompanied works such as Morgentraum (track 7).
As the disc’s subtitle suggests, there is not only a nocturnal mood pervading the album, but also hints of fairytales. Some of these hints are metaphorical, of course, but most explicit in the final number Lorelei, which directly references the famous myth. Most famously the tale is set in a poem by Heinrich Heine, but here, Beentjes opts for the lesser known text by Feodor von Wehl, reflecting the composer’s clear desire not to merely retread familiar ground in his work, but to find new ways to approach romantic literature.
With more songs (including some in the composer’s native Dutch) to come, we have, I suspect, much to look forward to from this highly individual composer. His unapologetically romantic style may polarise some listeners, but which I’m sure will comfortably find a home with lovers of melody driven chamber music.