Koechlin: Les heures persanes, Op. 65

COMPOSERS: Koechlin
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Koechlin
WORKS: Les heures persanes, Op. 65
PERFORMER: Ralph van Raat
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572473

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Koechlin’s 16-movement suite Les heures persanes of 1913-19 was inspired by Pierre Loti’s travel writings and evokes, in mainly dreamlike reverie, 48 hours spent on the caravan trail towards Isfahan. Since Herbert Henck’s first complete performance for Wergo back in 1987, it has been recorded several times, both in its later orchestral version and in the piano original, perhaps most notably by Kathryn Stott for Chandos, in 2003. Koechlin has a highly individual style of piano writing that asks a lot of any pianist: terraced sonorities, widely spread chords, proto-Messiaenic harmonies, contrasted plains of colour, and a general sense of that stillness you find in hot, empty vistas.

It’s good to have a bargain-price version from Naxos, and Ralph van Raat is a thoughtful interpreter. Nevertheless, his is perhaps too literal an interpretation of a work that depends so much on elusive evanescences of atmosphere. This music is partly about the suspension of time, yet van Raat’s tempos are generally on the brisk side (he’s a full 12 minutes faster than both Henck and Stott). On the other hand, when Koechlin creates a palpable sense of rhythm he is excellent, as in the dynamic build-up of ‘Le caravane’, and in the rare fast movements such as the riotous ‘A travers les rues’ and the concluding ‘Derviches dans la nuit’.

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Calum MacDonald