Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Violin Sonata (1916) 32.22
Viola Sonata (1913-15) 32.08
Marie Viaud (violin)/Mireille Guillaume (piano)
Michel Michalakakos (viola)/Martine Gagnepain (piano)
rec 1997 SKARBO SK 1985 [64.28]

Koechlin wrote a great number of works. Bewilderment at this outpouring has prompted a few musicologists to dismiss the works as uneven (highly likely in a large output - think of Mozart) or dull. Certainly he had no easy successes. not for him a Honegger Pacifc 231 or a Mossolov Iron Foundry. The BBC, about five years ago, broadcast a major survey of his music revealing him as an enigmatic composer worthy of further exploration. This, in itself, is a major step given the plethora of works to sift and appraise.

Between 1916 and 1917, in the depths of a bloody war taking a massive toll on Europe's young lives, three violin sonatas arose from France: Faure's, Debussy's and Koechlin's. The Koechlin is ecstatic and rhapsodic - a counterpart to the Delius violin and cello sonatas and the Delius violin concerto. Cascading notes resolve in the second movement into a determined statement and a contented sunset of a theme. A short and equally contented adagio divides us from the long (13.30) finale. A grave patterned theme takes us forward rising to a statement of lofty lyrical eminence. This work can profitably be considered alongside the Howells violin sonatas of that decade, Ireland's second and Dunhill's second. It is dedicated to his teacher, Faure.

The inwardly orientated Viola Sonata begins in an atmosphere of understated peace with a hint of disquiet. Koechlin confessed to writing music of an escapist leaning in the violin sonata. The viola sonata looks the war in the eye for as long as the composer can bear it. If there is any escape in this sonata it is imperfect. There are troubled rustlings and currents here. Harmonically speaking this is far more oblique than the violin sonata. The scherzo is a Goblin hunt paralleling the grown-up fairytale world of the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1, not to mention a work later published in France, the John Foulds cello sonata. The andante is a cold or at least cool meditation. Once again the finale is the longest movement at 12.40 (the violin sonata's is 13.30) and is of uncertain mood but certainly not optimistic or joyous. This music is reflective with a heightened consciousness of tragedy and the washing away of old certainties. It will appeal to those who enjoy the Bax Viola Sonata and the darker side of Frank Bridge. The work was completed during Koechlin's time as a war hospital attendant.

The disc is neatly documented and well presented. The performances strike me as excellent although I confess that I do not know alternative performances.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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