Charles KOECHLIN (1867–1950)
Pieces for Piano - Vol 3
Danses pour Ginger, Op. 163, Dances 1 and 2 (1937/39) [05:52]
Sonatine, Op. 59, No.3 (1915/16) [04:54]
Andante con moto (1896)* [06:35]
L’Ancienne Maison de campagne, Op. 124 (1923/33) [29:33]
Pièce pour piano: Adagio très calme, Op. 83bis (1923)* [02:21]
Sonatine, Op. 59, No.2 (1915/16) [07:43]
Douze Esquisses, Op. 41 (1905/15) [19:36]
Michael Korstick (piano)
rec. Kammermusikstudio, SWR Stuttgart, Germany 9-12 November 2009. DDD.
* World première recordings
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 93.261 [76:39]

This is the third volume of Charles Koechlin’s piano works from Hänssler Classic who have proved to be ardent champions of the music of the Parisian born composer. Hänssler have greatly assisted in the resurgence of interest in the maverick Koechlin who was a relatively late developer as a composer who went on to have a considerable output well in excess of 200 opus numbers. For the most part his works are rarely heard today with the exception of The Seven Stars Symphony, Op.132 (1933) and The Jungle Book (1899-1940) a cycle of 5 symphonic poems which includes the poem La course de printemps (The spring running).

Throughout Koechlin’s lengthy composing career he retained both a love for the symphonic poem and a penchant for romantic, oriental and exotic subjects. He had a tendency to develop passions such as those with Hollywood movies and movie-stars; passions which often turned into obsessions. It seems that in 1933 Koechlin went on 18 occasions to see the film The Blue Angel starring Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings. In 1934 Koechlin saw the actress Lilian Harvey in the film Princesse! à vos ordres! Captivated by Harvey’s performance Koechlin became infatuated and composed an astounding 113 works in homage to this star of the silver screen. After seeing the film Swing Time featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in 1936 he felt compelled to write the suite of 5 Dances pour Ginger Op.163. Three of the Dances pour Ginger were written as two-piano works and are not included here. The remaining two Dances pour Ginger for solo piano are highly appealing. Owing to clear similarities to the distinctive sound-world of Erik Satie the gloriously entrancing second piece Danse lente, the standout work on the disc by some distance, has been described as “the fourth Gymnopédies of Erik Satie.”

Composed in 1915/16 the Sonatine, Op. 59, No.2 and No. 3 are from a set of five. Although targeted for children the pieces contain some fairly tricky passages. In the Allegretto its similarity to Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin has been remarked upon. Recorded here for the first time the Andante con moto from 1896 had been gathering dust in a drawer for in excess of a century. It is a score that reaches a considerable intensity of passion. From 1923/33 the suite L’Ancienne Maison de campagne, Op. 124 is cast in 12 brief movements all with descriptive titles. The motivation for the score was the composer’s childhood reminiscences of time spent on his grandfather’s country estate near Lake Zurich. The pieces display a considerable variety of mood from taut and strong to playful and vivacious, from cool and steely to distracted and scatterbrained, from delicate and reflective to layers of gathering tension. Designed for sight-reading lessons in a piano class the Pièce for piano: Adagio très calme, Op. 83bis from 1923 is calm and dedicated. It provides a considerable challenge for the novice. The Pièce for piano is receiving its first recording here. Composed between 1905/15 the Douze Esquisses, Op. 41 is the first of two series of twelve. This first series are principally music sketches reminiscent of a wonderful and innocent childhood. Koechlin ensures that the set contains a broad range of feeling. In the Douze Esquisses I especially enjoyed the calm and tender opening sketch, the romantic temperament of sketch 4 and the rather repetitious, mechanical feel of sketch 5.

Pianist Michael Korstick from Cologne has given significant focus in his career to relatively ignored music such as Koechlin, Milhaud and Reger. These performances display him as an accomplished player who easily shifts from ardent vitality to delicate sensitivity. I love the way he conveys a captivating feeling of light and shade in the set of Douze Esquisses, Op. 41. The clear sound is a touch close and rather bright.

Michael Cookson

An accomplished player who easily shifts from ardent vitality to delicate sensitivity.