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Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950)
Violin Sonata (1916) [32.22]
Viola Sonata (1913-15) [32.08]
Marie Viaud (violin)
Mireille Guillaume (piano)
Michel Michalakakos (viola)
Martine Gagnepain (piano)
rec. 1997, l'Auditorium de L'École Nationale de Musique de Beauvais
SKARBO DSK1985 [64.26]

Ballade, Op. 50 (1911-15) [22:27]
L'ancienne maison de campagne, Op. 124 (1932-33) [27:29]
Préludes for Piano, Op. 209 (1946-48) [18:08]
Jean-Pierre Ferey (piano)
rec. 1993, Salle Adyar, Paris
SKARBO DSK1136 [68:33]

Charles Koechlin was born in Paris in 1867, and it was the original intention of his family that he should become an engineer. He enrolled at the École Polytechnique in 1887, but a bout of tuberculosis set him back and he graduated with only mediocre grades. In 1890 he enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire, where his fellow students included George Enescu, Reynaldo Hahn and Florent Schmitt. In 1896 he had further tuition from Gabriel Fauré, and later went on to write the composer’s first biography in 1927. He worked as a composer and teacher. His other activities included critic for the Chronique des Arts, co-founder of the Société musicale indépendante, a fervent supporter of the International Society for Contemporary Music, of which he became President of the French section, and President of the Fédération Musicale Populaire. He died aged 83 at his country home in the South of France in 1950.

His four movement Violin Sonata, composed in the early days of World War 1, is dedicated to Gabriel Fauré. The “unreal world of fairy tales and dreams” against the backdrop of “an enchanted forest, in an atmosphere of tales and legends” is a far cry from world events that were going on around him. It was premiered at a concert of the Société Musicale Indépendante on May 18, 1917, with Yvonne Giraud taking the violin part and Jeanne Herscher-Clément at the piano. The opening movement transports us to a world of fantasy and wonder, imbued with serenity and calm. A dancing Scherzo, light, nimble and magical follows. Warmth, comfort and contentment inform the Nocturne, which precedes an extended finale, beginning rather wistfully and tentative, but ending jubilantly.

The Viola Sonata, roughly contemporaneous, couldn’t be more different in its reflective and elegiac qualities. Interestingly, it was premiered in Paris in May 1915 by Darius Milhaud on viola and Jeanne Herscher-Clément at the piano. The first movement is introspective and dreamy, but one needn’t look too far to find some dark, sombre shadows. The viola’s timbre lends itself perfectly to evoking an atmosphere of mystery and suspense. The Scherzo gallops along, with adventurous harmonies adding some striking colouration. The Andante is austere and considered and has a hazy, static quality. The finale draws its inspiration from a song the composer penned in 1902, whose second verse begins: “Ah, weep huge tears, for the hours of darkness and difficulty” – very apt in the circumstances.

Skarbo offers lovely recorded performances in well-balanced sound. I would recommend this disc for the particular combination of these two very contrasting works at both ends of the emotional spectrum.

The three piano works played by Jean-Pierre Ferey span a period of over thirty years.  All the music displays Koechlin’s compositional strengths i.e. wealth of imagination, unbounded fantasy, myriad timbral sonorities and vast harmonic diversity. Perhaps the most familiar of the scores is the suite L’Ancienne Maison de campagne, Op. 124, dating from 1932-33, and certainly the most extended composition here. Consisting of thirteen short pieces with descriptive titles, it recalls childhood memories of the time that Koechlin spent as a young child at his grandfather’s country estate near Lake Zurich. Serious, playful, struggling, pondering and determined are just some of the moods catered for.

The earliest work is the Ballade, Op. 50, written originally for solo piano, but later orchestrated for piano and orchestra. It consists of one long movement in eight sections. You’ll find it a very attractive listen, with haunting themes and diaphanous harmonies worked into a score both supple and flowing, and spiced with modal flavours. Ferey performs the first twelve of the 15 Préludes for Piano, Op. 209, composed 1946-48. Although these can be played separately, their full essence is only revealed when they’re performed as a cycle. There is plenty of variety, some are slow, some fast and some constructed in four or five parts. Modal harmonies and skilful counterpoint provide enticing ingredients.

Ferey, who has made it his life’s mission to champion the rarely performed and unsung repertoire is the perfect advocate for these alluring works.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review (sonatas): Rob Barnett



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