Les Heures Persanes
Kathryn Stott (piano)
Recorded on 19 & 20 April 2001 in Potton Hall, Suffolk
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2003
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 9974
This is a long journey, a long, slow journey, a long, slow, quiet journey. An hour and more of music covers nearly three days of imagined time. Composed between 1913-19, Charles Koechlin’s 16-movement cycle embraces his much-travelled self, his fascination with the Orient, his reading of travel journals, his ability to magically conjure sight and smell, and his ever-surprising musical thoughts – the creations of someone who loved Chopin and was both inside the French tradition of piano music as well as disclosing unending searching.
One can hear Debussy, Fauré, Ravel and Satie in these pieces; the harmonies though are altogether forward-looking. Whether Koechlin (1867-1950) is consciously experimenting or letting the mysteries of the East determine these open-ended and entrancing pieces scarcely matters, for the personality that each one exudes is satisfying in terms of duration and sensibility; the elusiveness is inviting. It’s up to the listener to paint pictures and ’find’ the music. Its good to know this musical free spirit (in an Ivesian sense rather than in Schoenberg’s radical re-aligning of music’s possibilities, although Koechlin does seem to make indirect use of note rows and throughout has a firm basis for his flights of fancy) who was prepared to go where his sense of fantasy took him.
Notable is Koechlin’s subtlety of notation. Dynamics are rarely above pianissimo and there’s also the most wonderful fluidity of expression – evolving ideas that give off a whiff of perfume, a sense of eastern promise, a reflective languor and beautifully judged sonorities. This is intangible music that is not fragile; harmonies have a French locus and can move mystically (and naturally) to new vistas – Koechlin had an innate sense of how sound can stir the capricious mind.
Occasionally dynamics do get louder and the pace does quicken – ’À travers les rues’ (No.6) or the final piece, ’Derviches dans la nuit’, both scintillate; the former has its Debussyian aspects (Études), the latter its Ravelian pointers (Gaspard and Miroirs). Yet there is nothing copied and all is tinged with something from another land – both geographical and musical.
Finally, the recorded sound is ideally spacious and warm, and Kathryn Stott is amazingly sensitive and dedicated. Her luminosity of tone and range of colours completes a rather special CD.