> Charles Koechlin - Mélodies [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950)
Le Printemps (1890s)
La Nuit (1890s)
La Lune (1890s)
L'Été (1890s)
Le Vin (1890s)
Chanson d'Amour (1890s)
Pleine Eau (1892)
Déclin d'amour (1894)
La prière du mort (1896)
Nox (1899-1900)
L'Astre rouge (1899)
Les Rêves Morts (1899)
Villanelle Op. 21 No. 1 (1900-1901)
Villanelle Op. 21 No. 2 (1900-1901)
Novembre (1901)
Accompagnement (1902-1907)
Le Repas préparé (1906)
Soir païen (1908-1909)
Si tu le veux (1894)
Michèle Command (sop)
Christophe Durrant (piano)
rec Aug 1996, DDD
Mélodiste Française series
MAGUELONE MAG 111.113 [74.06]

Ian Lace's reviews first drew my attention to the connoisseurs' label, Maguelone. Hyperion have set the most exalted performing and information standards in various genres including Mélodie. However Timpani and Maguelone have also made exceedingly valuable and rewarding contributions and should be prominent in the almanac of any enthusiast of French song.

Koechlin is a far more ascetic, severe and devout musician than these songs might suggest. If you listen to his choral works on Marco Polo and on Skarbo you will detect a composer who tends towards the gravely religious. Fellow Bretons such as Emmanuel, Ropartz and Ladmirault are much more sensual. The impressive late orchestral works of Koechlin as well as the Seven Stars Symphony, Les Heures Persanes and Livre du Jongle all point to a composer with a more impressionistic and grand inclination.

The first six songs here are settings of Théodore de Banville. They are theatrical, epic and a touch conventional. Bouilhet's Chanson d'amour is a rondel of cascading lightheartedness. Yet more individuality and grit is to be found in Pleine Eau (1892). Declin d'Amour, a setting, from 1894, of words by Sully Prudhomme is ambitious and operatic in achievement.

Time after time Maguelone's wisdom in selecting Michèle Command for this project is affirmed. Her voice tends towards the mocha end of the spectrum. Her vibrato is well under control and she has reserves aplenty when her great moments come as in the Puccinian tragedy of Declin d'Amour and from two years later in the Mussorgskian bell-possessed Prière du Mort. Command's only perceptible weakness comes in voice colouration at the quieter extreme of the range although this seems less of an issue towards the end of the disc. The same warmed chocolate vocal tone exists whether she sings piano or forte.

These miniatures come into their exotic own in the five Leconte de Lisle songs from 1899 to 1901. They are Nox; L'Astre rouge; the two Op. 21 Villanelles and Les Rêves Morts. L'Astre rouge and Les Rêves Morts explore in much more atmospheric terms the same death-centred sentiments as La prière du Mort, tracing a heavy-eyed path through the voluptuous littoral between sleep and waking. The first of the two Villanelles is much in the same vein but the second blows away the languor with a fresh ecstatic breeze. The three Albert Samain settings are from the period 1902-1909. Koechlin's manner becomes more oblique here yet is still anchored to the impressionistic style of the Leconte de Lisle songs. Soir Païen takes us to classical Greece where the nights are fragrant with the roses of Syria and where the moonlight cuts through the trees and kisses the eyes of Endymion.

The Paul Bourget setting of Novembre is more personal - a deeply felt, calm and calming song which is sweet as a benison and yet sad also. Another masterful song.

The disc ends in lissom Debussian tunefulness with a setting of de Marsan's Si Tu Le Veux with its irresistible running accompaniment and silkily spun vocal line.

I have quite unfairly concentrated on Command's role. I would not like to sacrifice the opportunity also to praise Christophe Durrant who is unfailingly attentive, discreet and resolute as the songs demand.

The notes, which are also in French and German, are by the ever-reliable and inspiring Michel Fleury (what a pity that we hear hardly anything from him these days). The French musical renaissance owes much to his exploration and path-finding. The words (in French of course) are printed in full although some of you will erupt with typically Anglophone vituperation because there are no English translations. It would be a great pity if you allowed such a small demerit to discourage you.

This is a lovely disc and I urge you to hear it if you count yourself a sincere explorer of the mélodie or chanson. This is another side to Koechlin who here at least is less the severe Mosaic prophet than his ramblingly full beard might lead you to believe.

Rob Barnett

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