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Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950)
Les Chants de Nectaire (1944)
1ère série: 32 pièces d'après La Révolte des Anges de Anatole France, op. 198 [62:32]
2ème série: Dans la Forêt antique, op. 199 [48:38]
3ème série: Prières, danses et cortèges pour les Dieux familiers, op. 200 [60:28]
Pierre-Yves Artaud (flute)
rec. Temple Saint-Marcel de Paris, 1997-98. DDD
SISYPHE 001 [3 CDs: 62:32 + 48:54 + 60:28]

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The utopian idyll of classical Greece was a source of fascination for many composers and the flute was its natural complement. Those who were drawn into its web included Debussy, Roussel, Nielsen, Sibelius, Stenhammar, Bax and the Alsace-born composer Koechlin. 
Koechlin had a considerable respect and affection for the flute and was drawn back to it time after time. While it was not the first time he had essayed works for the instrument this is his longest flute sequence running to two hours and fifty minutes. It is trounced in terms of playing time only by the four hour work written by Morton Feldman for Christian Wolf.
The three series run in total to ninety–six items each series with a descriptive title and 32 pieces in each series. Pierre-Yves Artaud cleanly articulates the variety and delight of these little pieces of atmospheric and narrative mosaic. With the composer he defeats any fears you may entertain of academic scale exercises. It’s a lot to ask though: with a single wind instrument to sustain invention and interest across almost three hours. While I would not recommend a single three hour session there is remarkable and sustained stimulation to be found in each set. Birdsong, classical idylls, the skitter and flutter of wings through green groves, the songs of nymphs and fauns, melancholy reflections and desolation (Meditation on Human sorrow), uncertainty, cantabile, hymnal, playfully skittish (Games in the clearing), capering (Water nymph games), diving and volplaning (Drinking in the shade, in summer), feminine grace (Prayer in the Dorian Mode) and lithe dances (Dance of Youths) – they are all there. Koechlin demands nothing unnatural from his flautist and the breadth of invention remains within the accustomed and gracious boundaries of the instrument.
The Chants were variously premiered in France by Marcel Moyse and Jean Merry between 1945 and 1947. The first thirty-two were written under the influence of Anatole France’s book La Révolte des Anges. Artaud who provides the excellent scene-setting notes puts to us entirely credibly that France’s shepherd Nectaire is Koechlin. Indeed is The Goatherd (CD2 tr. 10) a self-portrait of the mercurial side of the composer?
Artaud’s key action can be heard at times but this is no obstacle to the stimulation and pleasure to be gained by experiencing this traversal through one twentieth century composer’s fascination with the classical ideal. The recording is exemplary.
There is competition for this Sisyphe set. I have not heard it but there is an extravagantly-spread five CD box of the same music on Basta Music 3091 552 from the flautist Leenert de Jonge. I do not have the de Jonge and would be interested in hearing from anyone who can compare the two sets.
You can hear more of Koechlin’s writing for the instrument on Hyperion Helios CDH55107. This comprises Fourteen pieces for flute and piano Op. 157b; Sonata for two flutes Op. 75; Sonata for piano and flute Op. 52; L'Album de Lilian: Premier Série Op. 139 and Deuxième Série Op. 147 (excerpts) with Morceau de Lecture pour la flute Op. 218. The performers are Fenwick Smith (flute), Martin Amlin (piano), Jayne West (soprano) and Leone Buyse (flute).
It may not be as stunningly revolutionary as the wonderful orchestral poem Vers la Voûte Etoilée but there is concentrated delight and grace in this neglected epic sequence for solo flute.
Rob Barnett

Further details about Koechlin and this work

Detailed Tracklisting
32 pieces for flute after La Révolte des Anges by Anatole France, Op. 198
1 Préambule
2 Birth of life
3 Patterns of light
4 Clarity of mind
5 Youth of the world
6 Insights of calm intelligence ....
7 .... pierce with bolts Error and Stupidity
8 Mocking laughter
9 Fun with light
10 Vain quarrels - what’s the point?
11 Tenderness
12 The lament of mankind
13 Night
14 Breaths of spring on the sea
15 Light - moderation - equilibrium
16 Love
17 Pity
18 For suffering souls
19 The garden of the muses
20 The tendrils of the vine
21 Happy hours
22 Fear
23 Idylle
24 Moonlight on the sea
25 Bursting into life
26 The desire which all worlds are born of
27 Human effort
28 Thoughts in defeat
29 Evening
30 The sage’s calm
31 Funny on a sunny morning
32 Meditation on human sorrow
In the ancient forest, Op. 199
1 In the shade, on a cool spring morning
2 The clear forest
3 Games in the clearing
4 The sacred wood
5 The fluttering of the leaves
6 Drinking in the shade, in summer
7 Nymph dance, in the sun
8 Water nymph games
9 Chill of fine mornings in the mountains
10 The goatherd
11 Faun dance
12 “Mollesque sub arbore somni ....”
13 The sea whose unnumbered noises
14 Endymion the shepherd
15 The Satyre
16 “Majoresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae”
17 The faun’s caprice
18 On the death of a cat
19 Purity of morning on the shore
20 The “happy shepherd boy”
21 Calm of evening
22 Cool morning breeze on the sea
23 “O fortunatos nimium ... agricolas”
24 Bright evening
25 Spring fun in the forest
26 “Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub temine fagi”
27 Dances in the forest
28 “At secura quies...”
29 “Formosi pecoris custos, formosior ipse”
30 The birds are drunk ....
31 Silenus
32 For the procession of Dionysos
Prayers, dances and processions for the familiar gods, Op. 200
1 Prayer in the Dorian mode
2 Reply to the tutelary divinity
3 Prayer of someone sick
4 Procession of maidens
5 Dance in the morning sun in the countryside
6 Procession of the youths
7 Children's prayer
8 Dances to greet the return of spring
9 Epithalames
10 Prayer of the wife whose husband has gone to war
11 Dance to greet the return of the father
12 Funeral prayer
13 Dances to celebrate happy betrothals
14 Orphan’s prayer
15 Spell to cure a sick brain
16 Tityrus thanks the Gods
17 Canticle of the philosopher gazing at the night stars
18 Dances of youths in front of the happy home
19 The master teaches his pupils the harmonious lives of the ancient sages
20 Joyful ring dance in the flowery meadows
21 Prayer to the forest sages
22 Prayer to the heath gods
23 Grandmother’s prayer
24 Grandmother’s second prayer
25 “Dance”
26 Cortège
27 Spell to drive of evil spirits
28 Dances of the familiar fauns
29 Cortège
30 Prayer to cure someone sick
31 Second prayer for cure
32 “Thanksgiving” procession


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