Koechlin: Persian Hours/Holliger

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

The Persian Hours is a suite of 16 short movements that exists both as a piano cycle and in this orchestral guise. It’s a very special, atmospheric work, mostly very slow and dreamy, and except for three or four movements (À travers les rues; the mini-tone-poem Le Conteur; and the final Dervishes dans la nuit) is often extremely quiet. The orchestration is incredibly delicate and subtle, and it’s entirely typical of Koechlin that although the piece is harmonically extremely audacious for its time (1913-19), the music is so subdued that you might not be aware of its frequent polytonal or atonal basis. In short, this is a very remarkable piece, but not one for casual listening.

It’s also a terribly difficult work to record, and on the whole Heinz Holliger does a much better job than Leif Segerstam for Marco Polo. In the first place, Holliger has the better orchestra, but more importantly he knocks about 10 minutes off the timing of the entire cycle. Segerstam is entirely too static; Holliger manages to convey stillness without stasis, and that is the key that makes listening to the whole thing at a sitting possible (should you be so inclined). Pity the engineers, though. The dynamic range here is almost too wide, with soft bits incredibly quiet, making the few loud outbursts a bit too noisy. It’s very good sound, as might be expected from the SWR team, but not quite ideal for the work. Still, if you’re in the market for The Persian Hours, this is the way to go.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

CHARLES KOECHLIN - Les heures persanes (orchestral version)

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