The new disc from Melba dedicated to French music—following the excellent Turbulent Heart which highlighted the bitter melancholy of Chausson and Vierne—showcases some chamber music of Charles Kœchlin, programmed alongside several pieces by his Belgian contemporary, Joseph Jongen.
A vital and heartfelt work under the fingers of violist Roger Benedict—soloist and member of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and guest principal with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe—the Op. 53 Sonata (1912-1915) by Kœchlin opens this programme of interior worlds magnificently. From the start the finesse of Benedict’s playing, his sense of phrasing and the opulence of the sound justify the title of Volupté (Voluptuous); but more than the ample and profound sensations, this is also music of nostalgic, meditative even bitter sentiment. The sometimes disquieting activity of the Scherzo makes a pointed contrast before coming of the sovereign calm of the Andante (a caressing moment which creates and develops a dream-like character, in the spirit of his master, Fauré).
The founder, along with Ravel, Fauré and Schmitt of the Independent Music Society in 1909 (with its Communist affinities), Kœchlin is a proponent of the French style. This sonata is assuredly one of his intimiste masterpieces, demanding technique, restraint and evocative detail from its interpreters. These qualities Roger Benedict and his partner Timothy Young know how to provide with a deft touch. The rhapsodic and sizeable last movement Finale expresses a liberated passion blended with the sadness born out of the loss of a friend, Darius Milhaud (to whom the work is dedicated).
Between 1896 (Très modéré) and 1906 (Andante) the Four Little Pieces recall the rich inspiration of a younger Kœchlin. To the meditative quality of the viola, the composer adds the elegiac sweetness of the horn. The sombre yet tender tone of the excellent soloist Ben Jacks combines ideally with that of the viola. The initial Andante contains a unity of tone thanks to the graceful playing of all the three artists. Elsewhere, the Four Little Pieces are pure marvels: veritable jewels of subtlety and elegiac poetry as in the dream world of the Très modéré or the reticent delicacy of the Allegretto quasi andantino of 1906.
Following the Four Pieces of Kœchlin there are four works of Joseph Jongen. The first, the Concertino pour alto et piano, Op.111 (1940), presents an incendiary ardour, the skilful creation of which recalls the writing of Kœchlin. The natural fluidity of melody suggests Saint-Saëns combined with a very profound awareness of the harmonic soundscapes of Debussy. A viola line marked with oriental exaltation (several sinuous melismas) outlines the character of a floating world of refinement and poetry. The introductory piece is the longest of the four and a revelation. The Belgian Prix de Rome winner (at 24 years of age) would go on to become the director of the Brussels Conservatoire and also reclusive, meditative and even bitter as the last work Allegro appassionato Op. 79 from 1925 attests. The Introduction et Danse Op. 102 employs the same melismatic freedom which carries the imprint of Jongen’s developed style. The melancholic rapport between violist and pianist in Andante expressivo (1900) is praiseworthy. This piece is presented in the new version authenticated by the Belgian Centre for Music Documentation.
As in the preceding album Turbulent Heart, this Volupté recital of two or three part chamber works, explores the interconnected sensibility of two contemporaries, Kœchlin and Jongen. The wide palette of nuances and the interpreters’ commitment are winning contributors to this captivating programme.