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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 


Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950)

La Course de printemps - poème symphonique Op. 95 (1925-27) [33.40]
Le buisson ardent poème symphonique after an episode from 'Jean-Christophe' by Romain Rolland Op. 201 (Part I); Op. 171 (Part II) (1945, 1938) [12.44; 25.54]
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Heinz Holliger
Christine Simonin (ondes martenot)
rec. Live concert recordings. Liederhalle, Stuttgart, Beethovensaal 23-25 Feb 2000 (Printemps); Stadthalle Sindelfingen, Konzertsaal (Buisson), 19-23 Feb 2001. DDD
Faszinationmusik series
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 93.045 [72.30]
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It has been some time since I last saw Heinz Holliger's name as a conductor. Holliger, Swiss-born, established himself on the world stage in the late 1960s and 1970s as the world's leading oboist - at the very least in the field of contemporary classical. He has since then spent much time in composition. The world premiere of his opera Snow White was given in Zurich in 1998. Here he leads the American-established radio orchestra for Stuttgart in two works by the French composer, Charles Koechlin.

La course de Printemps is the last in the cycle of seven symphonic poems making up Koechlin's Jungle Book. They are based on Kipling. This is a very grown up view of the books with the wildness and the loss of innocence emphasised. La Course sounds avant-garde and it is ... and was. The style moves between shadowy Debussian impressionism, exhausted satiation and rambunctious energy of the sort heard in Varèse, Cowell and Ornstein. The orchestra handle absolutely magnificently the long 'abschied' which is like a leave-taking and a forgetting - all in one (tr. 1 29.11). However the playing seems rough and ready (tr.1 5.45), if spirited, in the early part of the work. For this reason you may prefer either the Bedford (Actes-Sud), Segerstam (Marco Polo) or Zinman (BMG) versions of the complete Jungle Book. The Zinman is difficult to resist (excellent sound and generously also including the Seven Stars symphony - 2CDs in a single width box) but Bedford, of all four versions, is the most vivid even if he does struggle against analogue sound.

Koechlin and Rolland, each a confirmed pacifist, were close friends. The Rolland novel 'Jean-Christophe' was world famous. Le Buisson ardent (The Burning Bush) refers not to the Biblical burning bush but to the flaming power of rebirth, of flowering and of death. In its way it echoes the ungovernable power of the Russian spring (as in Le Sacre) but with an expectation and an ecstatic drive that places it with Frank Bridge's masterpiece Enter Spring and the gleaming lunar textures of Schoenberg's Pelleas and Melisande. It is a much more 'finished' work than La course and despite its difficulties receives a highly polished performance. The second part dreams with brilliance and is not at all difficult to appreciate. The shining radiance of much of this music (tr.3) will win many new friends - friends who are already captivated by Gorecki's Third Symphony and by the long threnody of the second part of Allan Pettersson's Seventh Symphony.

Comparing Holliger with Segerstam (on a long deleted Cybélia disc and then on Naxos Patrimoine 8.550637) the timing is about the same 38.10 (Segerstam) as against 38.38 (Holliger). Segerstam benefits from an even better drilled orchestra so if forced to a choice I would opt for Segerstam. However if this coupling appeals you are unlikely to feel cheated. The ondes martenot in the second part (written first!) and its erotic dreamlike setting prompt thoughts about Turangalila. I wonder whether Messiaen knew the Koechlin piece.

There is one other specialist comparison. The conductor Roger Désormière (1898-1963) conducted the premiere with the ORTF orchestra in Le Buisson in 1951. Désormière has claims to significance in matters Koechlin. On 21 November 1932 he directed the first ever Koechlin Festival in Paris. The Symphonies des Hymnes (one of Koechlin's rumoured masterworks - quite unknown) was conducted by him on 14 June 1938. After the war with the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion he performed The Jungle Book (15 April 1948) and Ballade for piano and orchestra (20 February 1950 with Henriette Faure).

The Désormière disc on Classical Collector will probably be difficult to find and it is in the historic category. It is mono for a start. It is closely recorded though with plenty of hall-depth. Every shuffle, shoe and chair creak is captured. I mentioned Turangalila earlier on. It is interesting to note that Désormière conducted the European premiere of that work in Aix in July 1950 - just over a year before this first performance of the Koechlin piece. I will not push the parallel too hard but the dream-state summoned by Koechlin in Part II does have resonances with the Messiaen. Koechlin's textures are however less saturated and also less exultant; spiritual without being sensuous. Désormière shaves four minutes off the time taken by Bedford and Segerstam. Did Désormière's tempi have Koechlin's approval?

Many Koechlin works remain to be recorded. I hope that someone will tackle some of these. Conductors would do well to sift through these ambitious orchestral works: Vers La Voute Etoilée (Towards the starry skies) (1933), Docteur Fabricius and The Symphony of Hymns (1938). If only Holliger and the Stuttgart radio orchestra could be persuaded to record these works.

Rob Barnett


Le Buisson ardent - the competition
Orchestre Philharmonique de Rhénanie-Palatinat/Leif Segerstam - Naxos Patrimoine 8.550637 also Cybelia CY 812 (the latter with the Cello Sonata)
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française/Roger Désormière. The Classical Collector 150142

 


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La course de printemps Op.95

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