Koechlin: Les heures persanes

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Les heures persanes
PERFORMER: Kathryn Stott (piano)
Kathryn Stott’s interest in Koechlin’s piano music stems from accompanying Federico Mondelci on a Chandos disc of the composer’s saxophone pieces – one of my favourite CDs of last year. She has certainly chosen one of his most challenging works to record: the 67-minute, 16-movement cycle Les heures persanes (1913-19) which evokes a two-and-a-half day ‘imaginary journey’ to Isfahan. The music is mainly the reverse of virtuosic – apart from a couple of contrasting movements, it’s all slow-moving, dreamlike, not really impressionistic but not entirely substantial, with elements of mirage, mainly in very quiet dynamics from p to ppp. It tests colour and pedalling and the ability to project atmosphere and then hold it so that the listener, too, enters the dream.


Perhaps because of those soft dynamics, Chandos has recorded Stott at quite a high level. Compared to Herbert Henck’s 1986 Radio Bremen recording (currently unavailable) – where the perspective is more distant and the playing itself more austere, even crystalline – the effect here is more physical, full-bodied and highly coloured. Whereas Stott produces bright watercolours, Henck’s movements are more like ink drawings, with a more restricted palette. But this alluring yet elusive work can easily stand both approaches: after all Koechlin himself arranged it for large orchestra. A significant addition to his discography, and to Stott’s. Calum MacDonald