Koechlin: Le docteur Fabricius; Vers la voûte étoilée

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LABELS: Hanssler
WORKS: Le docteur Fabricius; Vers la voûte étoilée
PERFORMER: SWR Stuttgart RSO/Heinz Holliger
Heinz Holliger’s previous recordings of Koechlin’s orchestral works – La course de printemps and Le buisson ardent – were estimable, but had rivals for the benchmark. Not this time. Vers la voûte étoilée (1932-3), a gorgeous, star-spangled nocturne in homage to the astronomer Camille Flammarion, and Le docteur Fabricius (composed 1941-4; orchestrated 1946), a vast philosophical symphonic poem on the theme of man’s place in the universe – one of the composer’s last major works, and his largest single movement – are both premiere recordings. Before he chose the path of music, Koechlin had aspired to be an astronomer, and his superbly judged scoring (not for nothing did he write one of the greatest manuals on orchestration) makes both works glow with a kind of interior luminescence. Le docteur Fabricius, derived from a short story by Koechlin’s uncle, the philosopher Charles Dollfus, and never publicly performed since its world premiere in 1949, is an orchestral tour de force spanning a huge stylistic gamut from solemn monody, through ecstatic ondes martenot solos, refulgent chorales in the spirit of Bach, to wild polytonal complexities. It’s all done with Koechlin’s characteristic generosity and ardent idealism. If this Holliger/Stuttgart RSO account doesn’t entirely erase memories of Martyn Brabbins’s 1997 studio performance with the BBC SO for Radio 3, it’s far more than good enough to be self-recommending to all enthusiasts of this great and still little-understood composer. Calum MacDonald