Charles Kœchlin is a prolific French composer remembered, if at all, almost exclusively for his 1933 Seven Stars Symphony, which had movements dedicated to Marlene Dietrich, Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo; Belgian composer Joseph Jongen is known mainly for organ works.
If nothing else, the release demonstrates material for solo viola is much richer than generally imagined. By far the longest work (at 30’) is Kœchlin’s Sonata Op 53 (1912-5), a rich addition to this repertoire. Benedict’s playing is mesmeric, conveying moods varying from languorous to ruminative, and is always darkly beautiful. The third movement andante seems to anticipate Messiaen, with the ethereal voice of the viola floating above pointillistic piano chords.
The other pieces which engaged me were Kœchlin’s Quatre Petites Pieces, on which Benedict is joined by the French horn of Ben Jacks. Two complaints: why do the liner notes not follow the performance sequence, causing listeners to keep having to flip back and forth tediously to remind themselves which particular piece they’re listening to? And why does Ivan March state in them “it seems likely that Koechlin intended this [the finale of the sonata] as a threnody [i.e. lament] for Milhaud, the loss of his great friend…”
The Sonata was composed between 1912 and 1915. Milhaud died in 1974, aged 82!