What a delicious collection this is! Take a moment and listen to the opening of the imposing, half-hour long Viola Sonata’s third movement. A simple sounding melody gradually descends in steps, from the viola’s highest register to its lowest. Underneath, the piano plays a series of gentle chords, increasingly strange, until both players ease into a dreamy cadence, as unexpected as it sounds inevitable (sound clip). There’s no other music quite like it, and this seven-disc set provides hours of Koechlin’s evocative, sometimes haunting, sometimes angular, instrumental explorations.
There are formal sonatas for clarinet (2), flute, two flutes, oboe, bassoon, viola, cello, and sixRead more sonatinas for solo piano. You get works for intriguing instrumental combinations: Trio for Two Flutes and Clarinet; Trio for Flute, Clarinet, and Bassoon; Modal Sonatina for Flute and Clarinet; Funeral Monument for Three Flutes. There are pieces of striking originality for solo woodwind, such as Monodies for Solo Clarinet, and the imposing (22 minute) Suite for Solo English Horn. And of course, Koechlin has to pay tribute to his beloved film stars: Epitaphe de Jean Harlow; The Portrait of Daisy Hamilton; Dances for Ginger (Rogers); and two volumes of L’Album de Lilian (Harvey).
Koechlin’s acute harmonic sense made him a sensational miniaturist, able to pack a world of expression into a very tiny space. The collections of small pieces in this set are particular treasures, works such as The Confidences of a Clarinet Player, Fourteen Pieces for clarinet and piano, Twenty Breton Songs for cello and piano (sound clip), Paysages et marines for solo piano, The Old Country House for the same, and the great piano cycle Les Heures persanes (The Persian Hours), a work that he later scored for large forces, and which you can also hear in the companion box of orchestral pieces.
Suffice it to say that the performances are all expert and loving, with special kudos going to pianist Michael Korstick, clarinetist Dirk Altmann, and flutist Tatjana Ruhland. Most of these players are members of the SWR Symphony Orchestra in Stuttgart, and a fine group they are. This connoisseur’s project, appearing in tandem with the exceptional series of large orchestral works conducted by Heinz Holliger, represents the kind of venture that only organizations such as German radio could afford to produce. This they have done with singular pride and care, as the lavishly complete and expanded booklet notes prove. A true event.