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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA66414
Recording details: June 1989
Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Produced by James Donohue
Engineered by Joel Gordon
Release date: June 1990
Total duration: 19 minutes 15 seconds

'Entrancing, enthralling, and entertaining … I shall not part with my copy until the Sheriff knocks at the door, and then only grudgingly!' (American Record Guide)

'An absolute classic, not only for Koechlin enthusiasts but for lovers of the flute and deft artistry' (Fanfare, USA)

Premier album de Lilian, Op 139
composer
in honour of Lilian Harvey, film star (1907-1968)
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançais
The breadth of Koechlin’s musical culture was all-encompassing: his sources range from Gregorian chant through the new Viennese school. Like Stravinsky, he wrote in various and apparently incompatible styles, but always made them identifiably his own. The sources of his extra-musical inspiration were similarly varied. They ranged from Classical mythology to Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book and the ‘insolent beauty’ of the great female stars of the early sound film, in particular the London-born film idol Lilian Harvey (1907–1968). Koechlin’s fascination with Miss Harvey resulted in four series of pieces written in her honor: the Seven Songs for Gladys Op 151, no fewer than 89 cameos for solo piano, and the two Albums de Lilian Opp 139 and 149. Lilian, unfortunately, was quite uninterested in Koechlin’s efforts. His letters to her went largely unanswered, and even after a visit from Koechlin’s wife, Suzanne, Lilian did not acknowledge receipt of the music she had inspired.

The first and last of the nine vignettes in Op 139 are songs after the manner of a popular chanson. In the first, ‘Keep that schoolgirl complexion’, Koechlin speculates on Lilian’s beauty secret: at first blush the song looks to be a Palmolive testimonial; but it also celebrates her passport to stardom—the flawless beauty of her face.

The second and third movements are Satie-esque miniatures for solo piano inspired by particular scenes from Miss Harvey’s films. The ‘Fugue sans protocole’ demonstrates Koechlin’s fluent counterpoint with easy informality; the ‘Valse de la réconciliation’ passes its melodic line through unexpected keys to lovely effect. In ‘Les yeux clairs’ (‘Bright Eyes’), serene harmonies in the piano are joined by broadly arching lines in the flute to evoke the remote beauty of a film idol’s gaze. ‘Joie de plein air’ (‘Joy of the Outdoors’) brings a welcome gust of fresh air through what has been a prevailingly sultry atmosphere. Lilian Harvey was an accomplished athlete, and this non-stop toccata for solo piano gives clearly physical expression to her joy in the out-of-doors. Koechlin’s title ‘Skating-smiling’ has an exotic ring in the French ear that it conspicuously lacks in English—perhaps it is better rendered in English as ‘Patinant-souriant’. The wordless vocalise leaves us to wonder what happy thoughts the star is thinking as she skates a slow waltz, first answered, then accompanied by the flute. ‘En route vers le bonheur’ (‘On the way to Happiness’) is the most extended of the nine pieces. The flute sets out, soon joined by the piano, on an energetic excursion in jaunty triplet rhythm. Flute and vocalise intertwine in a more tranquil middle section, until the triplets return, building this time to an exultant climax. The energy dissipates, and we arrive at happiness in a radiant B major. However ‘Pleurs’ (‘Tears’) intervene: the piano introduces and briefly develops a resigned little tune, only to interrupt with a middle section of surprising violence. The piano’s angular, hyperchromatic sequences and the shrieking piccolo seem to have paid an unexpected visit from the world of Pierrot Lunaire. The outburst passes as suddenly as it came. The somber moods returns, until a soft glissando in the piano returns us magically to B major, and ‘Tout va bien’ (‘All is well’). In this last song Koechlin reveals, with gentle irony, that the serene world we have glimpsed is illusory. It exists only on the silver screen and in our imagination—yet because it has been caught on film, the illusion will last for ever.

from notes by Fenwick Smith © 1990

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