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Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950 )
Works for Ensembles
Paysages et Marine, op.63 [24:12]
Sonatine for oboe d'amore with flute, clarinet, harpsichord and string sextet, op.194 no.1 (1942-43) [10:31]
Sonatine for oboe d'amore with flute, clarinet, harpsichord and string sextet, op.194 no.2 (1942-43) [9:54]
Wind Septet (1937) [13:58]
Sonate a 7, op.221 (1948-49) [12:41]
Ensemble Contraste, Ensemble Initium
rec. Vincennes, France, October and December 2011.
TIMPANI 1C1193 [71:16] 

Sonatas and Suite

Pierre de BRÉVILLE (1861-1949)
Sonata for viola and piano (1944) [18:52]
Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950 )
Sonata for viola and piano, op.53 (1911-15) [29:53]
Charles TOURNEMIRE (1870-1939)
Suite en trois parties, for viola and piano, op.11 (1897) [17:15]
James Parker (piano) and Steven Dann (viola)
rec. Salle Françoys-Bernier, Saint-Irénée, Quebec, May 2011.
ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD 22519 [66:00] 

Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950
)
Piano Quintet, op.80 (1908/1911/1917-21) [41:57]
String Quartet no.3, op.72 (1917-21) [13:48]
Sarah Lavaud (piano)
Antigone Quartet
rec. Studio Tibor Varga, Grimisuat, Switzerland, 1-5 December 2008.
AR RÉ-SÉ AR2009-1 [55:45] 

Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950
)
Andante for violin and piano, op.6 no.3 (1898) [3:50]
Allegretto for violin and piano, op.6 no.2 [2:29]
Quatre Petites Pièces, for violin, horn and piano, op.32 (1897-1907) [9:00]
Lamento for piano, violin, cello and horn [7:10]
Sonata for violin and piano, op.64 (1915/16) [35:10]
Choral sur le Nom de Fauré, for piano, op.73 no.2 [2:49]
Pièce, for piano, op.83 no.2 [1:54]
Idylle, for violin and viola, op.155 no.2 (1936) [1:39]
Pièce, for violin and piano (1906) [2:29]
Raimond Lissy (violin)
Jan Latham-Koenig (piano)
Raphael Flieder (cello), Wolfgang Vladar (horn), Helmut Zehetner (viola)
rec. Studio Baumgarten, Vienna, August 1998.
VMS VMS187 [66:30] 

Many music-lovers will be surprised to learn that there is now a significant amount of Charles Koechlin's corpus available on CD. Moreover, discographic attention to this most underrated of French composers appears to be growing still, as this clutch of chamber recordings, all released in the first half of 2013, indicates. There is more yet: 2013 alone has seen Koechlin's Flute Sonata on EMS (VI102), the Wind Septet on BIS (CD-2072), the Modal Sonatina for flute and clarinet on ATMA (ACD 22679) and his complete works for saxophone on three CDs on Brilliant Classics (9266). Most impressive of all is Hänssler Classic's often excellent all-Koechlin series, which recently added its eleventh volumes. 

One thing made clear by this aural feast is that Koechlin - whose Alsace-originating name is pronounced as if written Kéclin (rhyming with French 'né' and nasal 'vin') - deserves to be known today as much more than the orchestrator of Fauré's Pelléas et Mélisande suite. Long-lived British critic Wilfrid Mellers ranked Koechlin as "among the very select number of contemporary composers who really matter". For 1942 this was a particularly prescient remark, and it is surely only a lack of exposure that prevents him from taking his rightful place in the pantheon alongside, Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Saint-Saëns and one or two other French masters.
 
The Piano Quintet is typical of the quality of Koechlin's output. Newly re-released on the French all-female AR Ré-Sé label in bright but good audio, and given a tremendously sensitive account by Sarah Lavaud and the Antigone Quartet, this is a massive work of great originality. A glacial, quasi-mystical opening movement gives way to the fauvist intensity of the second and the languorous serenity of the finale, all emotionally intensified by philosophical movement titles applied by a composer reflecting on the horrors of the Great War: 'The obscure wait of what will be…' / 'Enemy attack - the wound' / 'Nature consoles' / 'Joy'. Paired with the much shorter, more austere, less immediate Third String Quartet, the Quintet constitutes a glaring, unforgivable omission from the repertoire.
 
Much the same may be said of Koechlin's Viola Sonata, performed with passion and precision by the highly experienced, all-Canadian team of Steven Dann and Jamie Parker on ATMA Classique's new release (the one with the curious cover). In their scintillating recital, Dann and Parker - respectively violist for the Smithsonian Chamber Players and pianist of the Gryphon Trio - sandwich Koechlin between Charles Tournemire and the relatively unknown Pierre de Bréville. Unlike Koechlin, these two were not disciples of Fauré, but César Franck. Regardless, Tournemire's virtuosic Suite - in all but name a sonata - is instantly memorable, and de Bréville's sparkling Franckian sonata, showing little sign of having been written in 1944, would be recognised as a classic if written by a more illustrious contemporary. Both works are premiere recordings, sound quality is very good; and this is an excellent disc.
 
The VMS disc - presumably another re-release - is less well recorded than the others reviewed here, with a certain amount of background hiss audible. Doubling as producer, Austrian violinist Raimund Lissy must take his share of the blame for this, as he certainly must for his own absurdly heavy breathing in the Sonata. The rather oddball programme includes a couple of solo pieces for piano towards the end, and then two short pieces where the recording quality drops further: whilst the Idylle for violin and viola is extremely bright and one or other of the soloists appears to be having an attack of catarrh during performance, the final thirty seconds of the Pièce for violin and piano sounds tacked on in something not far off mono. Nevertheless, despite engineering issues and ignoring the last few unsatisfying minutes, this is an absorbing recital containing some special works, none more so than the highly imaginative Violin Sonata, which sadly, despite a large oeuvre amounting to 226 opus numbers (not 225 as stated in the booklet), is Koechlin's only essay in the genre. This rhapsodising, hypnotising work in four movements, including an expansive finale, must not be allowed to languish in obscurity a moment longer. For compelling evidence of Fauré's tuition and influence audiences need look no further than the opening Andante and Allegretto from Koechlin's op.6: simple, timeless, gorgeous tunes out of nowhere. The addition of the horn in Lamento and the Four Little Pieces only enhances their affecting lyricism, leaving the listener stunned that these delectable works are only now seeing the light of day.
 
As an old man Koechlin wrote: "One of the most dreadful diseases of our day is the desire to be modern", but he was not a stuffy conservative himself. Far from it, in fact - he counted among his friends virtually all the leading French musicians of his day, old and young, adventurous and less so, and acknowledged and even assimilated all the trends. His music, consequently, is a highly appealing blend of late-romanticism and impressionism, though he does not hesitate to blend in other styles where appropriate. In fact, his oeuvre is a veritable treasure trove of melodies - Koechlin's ability to conjure up lyrical passages that seem to have always existed must rank alongside Tchaikovsky's; in the context of the 20th century he may be unrivalled.
 
Michel Fleury's remarks on Koechlin in the Timpani booklet bear the title 'Open Air Music', alluding to the idea that Koechlin was an 'outdoor' kind of composer. Certainly in this splendid recording nature's big, bold canvases are very much in evidence, nowhere more so than in the retrospective Paysages et Marines ('Landscapes and Seascapes'), one of Koechlin's key works. The spirited Wind Septet is also available on the Brilliant Classics triplex (9266), where it suffers quite severe distortion towards the adrenalised end, microphones unable to cope with a combination of volume and high pitches. Timpani's engineers show Brilliant how it should be done. The two French chamber ensembles Contraste and Initium, one wind-based, one strings, give elegant, expressive readings of some of Koechlin's most imaginatively scored works.
 
Byzantion
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