Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International (UK)

Charles KOECHLIN (1857–1950)
Viola Sonata, Op.53 (1912/1915) [30:11]
Quatres Petites Pièces (1896/1906) [8:06]
Joseph JONGEN (1873–1953)
Concertino for viola and piano, Op.111 (1940) [9:51]
Introduction et danse, Op.102 (1935) [8:00]
Andante espressivo (1900) [4:40]
Allegro appassionato, Op.79 (1925) [7:46]
Roger Benedict (viola)
Ben Jacks (horn); Timothy Young (piano)
rec. 2009, Iwaki Auditorium, Southbank, Melbourne
MELBA MR301126 SACD [68:36]

The centrepiece of Melba’s 2010 release is Koechlin’s large-scale Viola Sonata, composed between 1912 and 1915 and dedicated to the young Darius Milhaud who gave its premiere. It’s subtitled ‘La plainte humaine’ and is suffused with a poignant sense of introspection. If the piano’s evocation of brass calls is subtly integrated there’s no mistaking the instrument’s harp-like bardic rolled chords. And if Debussy haunts the Scherzo in its galloping figures the Andante is the crux of the matter, where expressive intent is at its apex in music of forlorn desolation. The rhapsodic writing in the finale has a welcome fluidity and the close offers a calming vision. Roger Benedict and Timothy Young play with great refinement. Benedict has a faster vibrato and darker tonal reserves than Steven Dann who, with James Parker, plays this sonata on a splendid rival Atma Classique disc, coupled with de Bréville’s sonata and Tournemire’s Suite; this last is a real rarity (see review).
The remaining quartet of Koechlin pieces were swept up into a suite in 1974, long after the composer’s death, but date from 1896-1906. They’re written for horn, viola and piano and offer elegant precis; slow and reflective, eloquently melancholic, charmingly coquettish and full of piping high spirits; Ben Jacks is the fine horn player.
Joseph Jongen was about a generation younger than Koechlin and the four pieces here date from 1900 to 1940. The Andante Espressivo is the earliest, a brief piece from 1900, rather wistful and heard here in the new edition published by the Belgian Documentation Centre for Contemporary Music. Rather more substantial is the Allegro Appassionato of 1925, full of typically Franco-Belgian harmonies, ripely romantic and rhapsodic. The Introduction et Danse (1935) is both slinky and seductive and probably the most unbuttoned piece in the whole programme. The Concertino is relatively compact but full of changeable moods, ranging from introspection to jaunty scherzo pages, rhythmically vivid and beautifully written. Benedict and Young really seem to enjoy exploring these four Jongen pieces, not least when they offer so much warmth of expression.
The recording has been nicely set up – at a slight remove and not too spotlit - and the documentation is colourful and apposite.
Those curious about expanding their knowledge about these composers and their viola works are in the best hands in these generous and technically accomplished readings.