This is Volume 1 of what will be three or four discs devoted to the piano music of Charles Koechlin (1867-1950), part of the ongoing Koechlin edition fostered by Hanssler. Koechlin (pronounced Kecklin) is a man whose influences proved irretrievably inconsistent—Debussy, Schoenberg, Wagner, Faure, and Stravinsky all took a spin through his head at various times, and the final product could vary according to the needs of any one moment. Suffice it to say that, as a generality, the music took a road less traveled, and while no less revolutionary than these other fellows, Koechlin’s compositional mysteries are far more subtle and esoteric than that of his famous counterparts.
I have always been a fan of this composer, and a defender against not insignificant musical criticism, which is not hard to do with this man’s work since so much of it is based on an extreme internalization. Why, for instance, is Debussy’s piano music so much easier for us to relate to than Koechlin’s especially since it is so closely related in style and methodology like modes, fast flourishes, and loads of fourths and fifths swimming through the bass while the impressionistic melodies soar above? I think in the end it is because Debussy sought a means of composing that is able to finally relate to all of us his own common experiences; Debussy sees the White Cliffs of Dover and presents us with his own feelings of majesty that are most likely what we would experience also. Koechlin gives us the time he went hiking on one of them and found an underground trail, something perhaps true to his own personal outing, but in no way connected with what we might be feeling. The intense personal digression is one of the things that keep this music from the last ounce of communicativeness that is missing in his bigger orchestral works, and that causes us to view his piano works as slightly diffident. This might be the difference in great composing and second tier composing, but I will leave that one alone for now.
At any rate, Koechlin is fortunate enough to have found an interpreter on the order of Michael Korstick, a pianist with a delicately nuanced touch who knows how to go easy on the pedal and to bring out the shimmering substance of the composer’s many varied harmonic schemes and nuanced dynamic touches. I really cannot imagine these works getting any better treatment than here, and the piano is brought forward with no loss of sound quality. This is not for everyone, and I would not recommend starting with this disc if you are new to the composer, but for seasoned veterans this will likely be a series of some considerable value. Excellent multilingual notes.
— Steven Ritter