Robert Groslot’s Witty Chamber Music

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GROSLOT: Poème secret / Eline Groslot, harp; Peter Verhoyen, fl; Geert Baekelandt, cl; Ann-Sofie Vande Ginste, Gudrun Verbanck, vln; Bieke Jacobus, vla; Lieselot Watté, cel / Confused Conversations. The Green Duck. Statement, Reflection & Conclusion / Verhoyen, pic; Stefan De Schepper, pno / Hibernaculum / Verhoyen, fl; Dimitri Mestdag, ob; Marija Pavlovic, cl; Pieter Nuytten, bsn; Eliz Erkalp, Fr-hn / The Phoenician Sailor / Verhoyen, pic; Mestdag, E-hn; Roel Avonds, bs-tb; Stefan De Schepper, pno / TYXart 18113

These works by the largely self-taught Belgian composer Robert Groslot are difficult to describe. They are bitonal but melodic in their own odd way; they have some jagged rhythms, but more often a lyrical strain. The music moves forward with a definable pulse, but also employs unusual pauses when Groslot is in the mood to do so. And they are not mood pieces or “classic lite,” not even in the Poème secret, the title of which would indicate a mood piece. Occasionally, he has the string players use the edge of their bows to produce a strange “white” sound, but never for long periods and not just for cheap effect. And there is a considerable amount of dry humor in his music that appeals to me greatly.

Moreover, his pieces have interesting variety. Confused Conversations is a more angular piece than Poème secret, sounding more like the contemporary works of composers like Dimitri Tomyczko, who use angular, syncopated figures in a sort of hocket style…except here, Groslot is only working with two instruments, piccolo and piano. By contrast, the style of Hiberniculum lies somewhere in between, pitting the odd combination of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn against each other, almost never blending the instruments except briefly in thirds. Swirling triplets in eights predominate as the piece goes on, adding to its quirky humor.

In the piccolo solo The Green Duck, Groslot pits the instrument against itself rhythmically, exploring odd harmonic balances, almost like a lame duck that is blind in one eye, limping along the shore of a pond. In The Phoenician Sailor, Groslot mixes his two styles, the lyrical and the syncopated, with good effect.

My sole complaint of Groslot’s music is its stylistic sameness, but the often unpredictable nature of his developments, such as in Statement, Reflection and Conclusion, show that he is at least a thinking composer who poses musical puzzles for himself and then solves them. Recommended with reservations.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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