Les Chants de Nectaire
Nicola Woodward Flute
Hoxa HS190205, HS190205 & HS190207
Charles Koechlin is one of those composers that have suffered neglect mainly because his music was so individual it was hard to characterise, or so it seemed in his own time (1867-1950). With distance he mirrors those 77 years well, beginning in the aftermath of D’Indy and Fauré, independent but relative to Debussy and Ravel, ending in the world of film music and the ravages of World War II.
The extraodinary three volumes of ‘songs’ for solo flute really stand as a reflection of detachment and a longing for peace dating from 1945. Nectaire is a character, a wise old flute player, from a late novel published by Anatole France in 1914. The Revolt of the Angels is an allegory/satire on the dullness of a blameless life and the equal dangers of revolution (just leading to different autocracy). It covers much the same ground as Act III of Bernard Shaw’s 1903 Man and Superman: “An Englishman thinks he is moral when he is only uncomfortable”. So while Koechlin seems to be writing music in the same elegaic and nostalgic mood as Ravel’s fawn, there is always just a tinge of disbelief – or it could be relief.
Whatever the spur to the composition, it is astonishing: 96 pieces for solo flute. They are truly song-like, melodious and not trying to be particularly difficult, either harmonically or technically. They are relentless, however, and I doubt whether Koechlin himself would have recommended listening to very many at one sitting. If you do, the urge for a more varied sound world will gradually become hard to resist. For those with the patience to persevere, though, the rewards are rather like those of some all night Indian raga: a contemplative experience close to meditation.
Nicola Woodward tackles this string of beads on three CDs and the playing is superb. She makes the best possible case for bringing this music out of the niche of flautists’ secret repertoire and into general awareness. The well judged recording, made in Clifton Cathedral, Bristol, makes full use of the warm acoustic without letting it echo. It is a hugely ambitious project, comparable to those of pianists who record complete sets of Schubert, and if the music cannot match that level of profundity, Woodward has to be congratulated for taking it on. All flautists should have this, the rest of us can dabble and admire from a distance.