Voluptuous indeed are the sounds embedded in this recording of music from the fin de siècle (in spirit if not always in date of composition). The main work is the 30-minute Sonata by Charles Koechlin, three years in the making and finished after the outbreak of the Great War.
At its first performance, in May 1915, the work was played by the young Darius Milhaud, to whom it is dedicated. Expectedly dark-toned (Koechlin asks for the lowest string to be tuned down to B flat), the piece is of a most melancholy hue, even the scherzo with its continual metre changes. These Roger Benedict masters with aplomb, producing an unearthly non-vibrato in the contrasting middle section while never losing momentum. Koechlin’s Four Little Pieces for Viola, horn and piano, on the other hand, are delicious petits fours; this improbable instrumental combination is convincingly realised by Benedict and Ben Jacks, who manage a beautiful blend of tonal colours, especially in the demonstrably voluptuous Très modéré.Joseph Jongen’s haunting Andante espressivo dates from the turn of the century; his other, larger-scaled pieces are several decades younger, although of a similar idiom.
Both the Allegro appassionato and Introduction et danse exist in orchestral versions, but their pianistic garb is equally convincing, especially in Timothy Young’s hands. Benedict captures the music’s elusive atmosphere, dressing it in the velvety sounds of his Testore and taking the occasional virtuoso flights easily in his stride. Melba’s sound and presentation are equally attractive.