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Charles Koechlin

string quartets 1 & 2

Ardeo Quartet
Carole Petitdemange and Olivia Hughes (violin), Caroline Donin (viola) and Joëlle Martinez (cello)

AR RE-SE 2006-3

The long-lived Charles Koechlin (1867-1950) did many things in his life apart from achieving a perhaps unprecedented catalogue of compositions, one or two of which surfaces from time to time (there are many orchestral works based on Kipling's Jungle Book and a Seven Stars Symphony reflected the composer's enthusiasm for cinema. The BBC took up Les Bandar Log some time ago, but it is striking to find that Koechlin has scarcely crossed Musical Pointers' path...

He is now belatedly coming into his own in recordings and here is a young quartet clearly determined not to just duplicate the standard repertoire, which (it seems from their website) is obligatory for string quartets touring in Europe as in UK. CDs provide an opportunity to venture farther afield musically - and thereby to catch the eye of the critic!

Koechlin's list of 250 works and more includes three string quartets. The first dates from 1913, though was much revised later; in it he develops "a science of the melodic line" with a sonata form in which themes are "intertwined - - transformed, modulated, superimposed" very freely, worlds away from academicism. The scherzo has an unstable time signature, giving back a lullaby-like melody "its original innocence"... The finale can be be thought of as a Haydn parody (Ludovic Florin).

The far larger Second Quartet (1916) was subsequestly orchestrated as Koechlin's First Symphony (op. 57b). Its first movement is has echoes of Franck and D'Indy, but is full of originality. The outer movements are 11 and 17 mins duration respectively, and this is a work to reward repeated hearings.

The performances by the Ardeo Quartet sound admirable (like most listeners, I don't have scores) and reflect deep study and identification with a composer they have chosen to espouse, whilst most of their colleagues have ignored him. These first two quartets whet the appetite for the other.

Less praiseworthy is the presentation, with miniscule bilingual print (a magnifying glass has become obligatory equipment for a reviewer) and waste of space - do we need two whole pages given over to telling us bilingually about the company's other recordings, e.g. that Debussy's La Mer is The Sea on the facing page??

I have chosen to rescue Daniel Schimasi's drawing of Koechlin from its ignominious relegation to " - - the inside centre of the inlay tray as if it were a target on a dartboard – - " [q.v. our Article on CD Insert Booklets].

Peter Grahame Woolf