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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950)
Les Heures persanes op. 65 (1913-1919 orch. 1921) [58:03]
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Heinz Holliger
rec. SWR, Stadthalle Sindelfingen, Konzertsaal, 19-23 Jan 2004. DDD
full track-listing below
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 93.125 [58:03]

"My dream has remained the same from the very beginning, a dream of imaginary far horizons - of the infinite, the mysteries of the night, and triumphant bursts of light."

So wrote the French composer Koechlin in 1947. Another Scriabin? Not quite. Koechlin seems to have had his dreams earthed and so avoided the perils of Messianic self-absorption. Nor did these dreams produce cerebral results. As late as 1933 and 1946 he produced major orchestral works such as Vers La Voûte Etoilée and Docteur Fabricius that pursue these arcana but steer clear of the voluptuary nature of Scriabin’s music.

The exoticism of the orient took a firm hold of European and others cultures throughout the period 1800-1950. Its forms were myriad from gimcrack salon to exalted inspiration. The Russians were particularly affected through Rimsky, Borodin and Ippolitov-Ivanov. The Americans succumbed as well with examples including Griffes Pleasure Dome and Farewell’s The Gods of the Mountains. In Belgium Biarent’s Contes’ d’Orient is a classic example - a very fine piece. In England Bantock wrote many oriental works including his philosophical masterpiece Omar Khayyam. Contemporary with the Koechlin work recorded here Delius wrote a magical score for Flecker’s play Hassan which in its final moonlit camel train departure comes close to Koechlin in Les Heures Persanes. In France there was an even long roster: Ravel (Sheherazade), Roussel (Padmavati, Evocations), Cras, Tomasi (some wonderful discoveries yet to be made there) and plenty of others.

Koechlin was not immune from this interest. His principal inspiration for Les Heures Persanes was the exotic travelogue by Pierre Loti, Vers Ispahan published in 1904. What we have here in sixteen movements is a study in atmosphere. The music is both subtle and refined. Sumptuous supercharged gestures are few and far between. Instead the music is often reflective and steadily paced. In each case the image is of a vista which has been internalised by the observer. The music concentrates on the thoughts rather than the scene.

If we ignore the two piano versions (Herbert Henck on Wergo and Kathryn Stott on Chandos) there are now two recordings of the Les Heures persanes. Around since 1993 is Segerstam’s Marco Polo (8.223504) recording with the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz. Segerstam takes 68:56 to Holliger’s 58:03. I have compared the two. Holliger and Hänssler are businesslike yet despite the ten minute difference their reading rarely seems hasty. Segerstam favours a more languid approach and to my ears this works well with this dreamy vision of a work. In addition the Marco Polo team secured a very transparent and clear audio image in the Pfalzbau Hall in Ludwigshafen. The Sieste has a greater plangency with Marco Polo. In Caravane Holliger’s orchestral tone is hooded, less spot-lit while the Segerstam ostinato is bass deep and bitingly immediate. Travers la rue recalls Debussy’s La Mer and with Holliger is an urgent wild rumpus. On the other hand in the fleeting celebrations of Matin the Hänssler version is quicker and less mysterious. Marco Polo catches to perfection the shifting high harmonics and metallic majesty of the brass eruption. Honours are evenly divided in the shifting harmonics of Clair de lune but in Aubade Holliger is heart-easing in his evocation of bird-song while the Marco Polo is more earth-bound. Segerstam handles Le Conteur (tr. 14 - virtually a mini tone poem) with real tenderness but Holliger compensates with a much stronger presence for the gong and generally a better sense of fantasy. Swings and roundabouts.

I hope that Holliger will not stop and will go on to tackle Koechlin’s five movement Symphony of Hymns (1938: hymns to the sun, night, day, youth, life), La Cité nouvelle (1938, a fantasy tone poem after H.G. Wells - perhaps inspired by Things to Come - Koechlin was a keen cinema-goer), the First and Second Symphonies (1916, 1943-44), En Mer, La Nuit (a tone poem after Heine’s ‘North Sea’) and La Forêt (1896-1907) a further tone poem in two parts.

Across the Marco Polo-Hänssler divide my preference is for Segerstam, his plangent languor and superior recording transparency. If the work is at all important to you having both versions will provide rewards and revelations.

Rob Barnett


Other Koechlin Reviews
You may be interested in reading reviews of two other discs in Hänssler’s Koechlin Edition:-
Vers La Voûte Etoilée and Docteur Fabricius

La Course de printemps and Le buisson ardent Hänssler Classic CD 93.045

TRACK LISTING

Timing Comparison: (Marco Polo-Segerstam; Hänssler-Holliger)
Les Heures Persanes (Persian Hours), Op. 65

1 Sieste, avant le départ [03:47] [3:36]
2 La caravane (rêve, pendant la sieste) [08:00] [5:57]
3 L'escalade obscure [03:13] [3:01]
4 Matin frais, dans la haute vallée [03:39 [2:56]
5 En vue de la ville [03:14] [3:13]
6 A travers les rues [04:26] [3:59]
7 Chant du soir [02:26] [2:06]
8 Clair de lune sur les terrasses [03:20] [3:03]
9 Aubade [02:33] [2:50]
10 Roses au soleil de midi [02:34] [1:56]
11 A l'ombre, près de la fontaine de marbre [03:15] [3:10]
12 Arabesques [02:15] [2:04]
13 Les collines, au coucher du soleil [03:08] [2:16]
14 Le conteur [09:34] [6:30]
15 La paix du soir, au cimetière [06:06] [4:44]
16 Derviches dans la nuit - Clair de lune sur la place déserte [07:18] [6:52]

 

 



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