KOECHLIN Flute Sonata. Clarinet Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2. Sonatine modale for Flute and Clarinet. 14 Pieces, op. 178: 3 Pieces. Pastorale. EMMANUEL Sonata for Clarinet, Flute, and Piano • Markus Brönnimann (fl); Jean-Philippe Vivier (cl); Michael Kleiser (pn) • BRILLIANT 9422 (59:57)
This is aRead more stimulating and attractive CD of works for flute and clarinet by Charles Koechlin, also including a rare Sonata for the two wind instruments and piano by his slightly older contemporary Maurice Emmanuel. Koechlin (1867–1950) was an enigmatic figure who composed prolifically in all genres but opera, and whose music is hard to pigeonhole; his style varies from the radical orchestral works like the Kipling-inspired Le Livre de la jungle and the Seven Stars Symphony (a tribute to early film actors) to the more accessible chamber music offered here.
The Koechlin works on this CD were composed between 1911 and 1942. The earliest is the flute sonata, which, as flutist Markus Brönnimann’s fine notes describe it, is a “demanding and complex work.” It’s a serious but attractive piece; Brönnimann goes on to point out that “for Koechlin the flute embodied an idealised ancient world, one filled with serene beauty amid peaceful nature.” The two clarinet sonatas, both written in 1923, are quite different from each other: The first has an almost monastic otherworldliness alternating with virtuoso flights; the second is reminiscent of Koechlin’s teacher Fauré. Both sonatas use the altissimo register of the instrument to considerable effect. The Sonatine modale and the excerpts from Koechlin’s op. 178 set of clarinet-piano pieces are mostly modal and rather austere: The former, in five short movements, has no showiness about it; the latter are somewhat warmer.
Maurice Emmanuel (1862–1938) was an exact contemporary of Debussy and Delius. His Sonata for Clarinet, Flute and Piano, written in 1907, is a well-wrought and mostly conservative example of the French woodwind school; there are occasional whiffs of Debussy, who was a conservatoire classmate. The third movement is rhythmically quirky. This piece deserves to be heard more often than it is.
Brönnimann and Jean-Philippe Vivier are both principal players in the Orchestre Philharmonique de Luxembourg. Brönnimann has a silvery sound and plenty of technique; Vivier has a vibrant tone and complete technical command. These recordings were made in 2003; no word on why they had to wait 10 years to be issued, but they sound excellent. Competing versions of this music are not plentiful; the Koechlin Flute Sonata, with five versions on ArkivMusic, is the most frequently recorded. A recording of the Emmanuel Sonata on EMI with Emmanuel Pahud and Paul Meyer is probably worth hearing; that CD also includes music by Milhaud, Jolivet, and Schmitt, among others.
Recommended to woodwind collectors and French-music buffs alike.