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Koechlin Les Heures Persanes

Piano works; Vol.2 Les Heures Persanes Op. 65

Michael Korstik (piano)

Hänssler Classic CD 93-246

Charles Koechlin
(1867–1950) is receiving increasing attention, with his Persian Hours now newly available in the original piano version, as well as in two earlier recordings of its later orchestration, the latter by Heinz Holliger (2004) directing the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR (Op. 65bis - 1921). While several of the pieces were heard in concert through the 1920s and '30s, the set as a whole seemed not to have been heard complete until it was prepared for recording in the early '90s.

Convalescing from tubercuosis in Algeria, Koechlin soaked in Arab art, customs and music which fired his imagination. His approach was to avoid "oriental" clichés and create a 16-part suite, without standard formal development, its mood prevailingly quiet and mysterious with only very few eruptions of emotion, using a personal method with 'harmonies of superposed fourths and fifths, and polytonality which make fantasy palpable in its eerie glow and shimmer' [All Music Guide]

Michael Korstik has the large hands essential to encompass some of Koechlin's weird chords, and he has devoted himself to mastering the vast, and mainly unknown, oeuvre of this prolific composer, whose stature is being reappraised.

Will Koechlin ever be permitted to join the pantheon of French greats, alongside Chabrier, who has been decisively elevated in Roy Howat's magisterial book The Art of French Piano Music: Debussy, Ravel, Faure, Chabrier?

Korstik provides extensive and exemplary notes to elucidate the secret mysteries of this unique work, its piano version relying more on 'clarity and differentiation within the musical substance' than on mixtures of colour.

Definitely worth exploring.

Peter Grahame Woolf