So wrote the French composer Charles Koechlin in 1947. He was not another Scriabin however. Koechlin seems to have had his dreams earthed and so avoided the perils of Messianic self-absorption. Nor did these dreams produce cerebral results. As late as 1933 and 1946, he produced major orchestral works such as "Vers La Voûte Etoilée" and "Docteur Fabricius" that pursue these arcana but steer clear of the voluptuary nature of Scriabin’s music.
The exoticism of the orient took a firm hold of European and others cultures throughout the period of 1800-1950. Its forms were myriad from gimcrack salon to exalted inspiration. The best example is Russia, as many were particularly affected through Rimsky-Korsokov, Borodin and Ippolitov-Ivanov. The Americans succumbed as well with examples including Griffes "Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan" and Farewell’s "The Gods of the Mountains". In Belgium Biarent’s "Contes’ d’Orient" is a classic example, and a very fine piece. In England Granville Bantock (another one of my favorite British composers; indeed with works such as the magnificent "Celtic Symphony" he is at the very top of the list!) wrote many oriental works including his philosophical masterpiece "Omar Khayyam". Contemporary with the Koechlin work recorded here, Delius wrote a magical score for Flecker's play "Hassan" which in its final moonlit camel train departure comes close to Koechlin in Les Heures Persanes. In France there was an even long roster: the obvious Ravel "Sheherazade", Roussel "Padmavati", "Evocations", and works by Cras, Tomasi (some wonderful discoveries yet to be made there) and plenty of others.
"Les heures persons" or "The Persian Hours" is a long and very unusual creation which falls into 16 sections, each bearing a descriptive title. Each section is practically it's own tone-poem. The source of inspiration lay not in Koechlin's own experience of Persia, but in Pierre Loti's written account "Vers Ispahan" of a journey through that country. Koechlin started work on the piece in 1913 and completed the orchestration in 1921. In the days before the First World War Persia must have been a very peaceful land, for only in one episode, ''A travers les rues'', is there any sustained momentum in the music, or a lengthy foray into louder dynamics. In one or two other sections there are brief, lively interruptions, but nearly all the work moves at a sublime, slow pulse and consists of quiet, contemplative musings and gentle, atmospheric evocations of pictures and moods. I have derived the greatest pleasure from this music whilst listening with headphones, or with close concentration in total darkness.
Such a structure could be dull indeed if it were not for the fact that Koechlin employs a large orchestra to produce an infinitely subtle range of delicate sonorities and colourings. His harmonic language is very daring for its day, and not particularly French-there is something almost Webernesque in the way he sometimes conjures a mood from out of a silent background through, say, some imaginative instrumental combination, or an unusual rhythmic device, and then lets it retreat back into oblivion. Each section has its own very distinct character and beauty, and inspiration remains high until the final bars..