Koechlin: The Jungle Book: Symphonic Poems after Rudyard Kipling

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Koechlin
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: The Jungle Book: Symphonic Poems after Rudyard Kipling
PERFORMER: Iris Vermillion (mezzo-soprano), Johan Botha (tenor), Ralf Lukas (baritone)RIAS Chamber Choir, Berlin RSO/David Zinman
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61955 2 DDD
The appearance of this double CD set means that for the first time the entire Jungle Book cycle of Charles Koechlin is available on disc – and high time too, for these are wonderfully evocative pieces. If you have a taste for music which summons up a mythic world in gorgeous colours, then this disc is for you. Kipling’s Jungle Book was a lifelong obsession for Koechlin, and between 1899 and 1936 he based five orchestral pieces on it, some including voices, which together form a vast symphonic cycle. On this disc you can trace the evolution of Koechlin’s language through the cycle, from the hazy, twilight sonorities of the Three Poems, which sound like a cross between Debussy and Ives, to the more dissonant and eclectic Bandar-log. By this time Koechlin had developed a style perfectly suited to Kipling’s world, by turns hazily evocative and awesomely grand.

Advertisement

Koechlin was a virtuoso orchestrator, and his music needs virtuoso playing to bring it off. The violins in particular are tested in some mercilessly rapid and ultra-high figuration, which in a less than accurate performance can sound scrappy. Fortunately the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra rises to the challenge well. David Zinman’s performances may not be as fiery as Leif Segerstam’s (Marco Polo), and at times he sounds a bit cautious – as for example at the beginning of The Spring Running, which sounds more like a jog. But this gives him more room to gather pace, so ultimately it’s more impressive than the rival version, which in general suffers from some uncertain playing, and in any case only offers a selection from the cycle. Ivan Hewett