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Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950)
Les chants de Nectaire, Second Series, Op. 199 (1945)
Nicola Woodward (flute)
rec. 2019, Clifton Cathedral, UK.
HOXA HS190205 [60:50]

The First Series of Koechlin’s Les chants de Nectaire was reviewed by Glyn Pursglove, whose extensive text on the composer is very much worth reading. The in-depth qualities of that review are somewhat inverse to the relatively skimpy amount of information provided with these CDs. There is some text, and probably enough for most people, but don’t expect tracts of analysis or deeply researched historical context. Nicola Woodward has also made some useful YouTube videos introducing these pieces, so you can supplement your Koechlin with some educational demonstrations and descriptions online.

The second set of Les chants de Nectaire consists, as do its two partner collections, of 32 pieces for solo flute. This set is “based on the Ancient Forest as seen in the writings of Virgil. We experience the richness and diversity of the natural world, but the journey also brings joy and sadness, terror and elation.” Koechlin’s writing does provide clues as to how each melody should sound, but there is a great deal of interpretative freedom for the player as well. So many choices make for difficult decisions at times, but Nicola Woodward acquits herself very well indeed, both musically and technically. Many of the pieces sound deceptively simple, but there are some miniature bombs of virtuosity such as the Danse de nymphes, au soleil which are a test for any player. Composers trying their hand at producing anything of comparable quality will also know how hard it is to emulate Koechlin in his seemingly unstoppable stream of creativity and imagination.

Nicola Woodward is recorded in the very resonant acoustic of the 1960s concrete-walled Clifton Cathedral, and this kind of space is always a nice environment for solo flute. She doesn’t hide behind this resonance however, and there is plenty of presence in the sound. Variety of colour and impeccable intonation are strong qualities here, as is Woodward’s tasteful and intuitive approach to vibrato. She makes both the piccolo and bass flute sit up and beg in those one or two movements where they have been chosen to provide further contrast.

Searching for alternative recordings online threw up one or two names, but none of these appear to be currently available as CDs. You might be able to find Hans Balmer on his CD Baby release from 2007 which can also be heard on YouTube. Then there is Christina Singer on Bayer Records or Alexa Still on Koch International Classics, but these all appear to be deleted titles. Koechlin’s selling power seems still to be lacking somewhat, and it’s a shame that such recordings never get beyond a first pressing, but all the more reason to welcome this set on the Hoxa label. Beautifully performed and recorded, this is a release that will hopefully raise the profile of this remarkable repertoire, and will certainly deliver much pleasure for years to come.

Dominy Clements

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