“The closeness of the oboe to the human voice inspired my idea of opening up the richly coloured fan of French music through the still far too little known collection of Vocalises-Etudes, which was created at the instigation of Mme Hettich. It contains works by the most important French composers (including Fauré, Ravel, Poulenc, Honegger, Messiaen, Koechlin, Saint-Saëns, Milhaud) – "songs without words", in the truest sense.” Heinz Holliger
In his Éventail de musique française, Swiss oboist and composer Heinz Holliger traverses a broad selection of French works for oboe and piano in a multichromatic programme of early 20th century music. Contained in this wide-ranging recital are compositions by Ravel, Debussy, Milhaud, Saint-Saëns, Casadesus as well as Koechlin, Jolivet and Messiaen – Holliger cultivated a personal relationship with several of the composers.
Heinz Holliger is once again joined by Austrian pianist Anton Kernjak, who also contributed to the 2014 recording Aschenmusik, and the duo navigates the different scores with equal technical finesse and emotive resolve, not least due to Holliger’s quite personal relationship to many of the compositions included in the recital.
Olivier Messiaen’s Vocalise Étude for instance, Holliger had initially played in the presence of the composer himself, leading to Messiaen incorporating the “almost forgotten” Vocalise in his final work Concert à quatre. André Jolivet, “the only important French composer influenced by Edgar Varèse”, as Holliger notes in his liner text, had even dedicated his piece Controversia to Heinz and Ursula Holliger. It is written for oboe and harp, on this album inviting the appearance of harpist Alice Belugou into the programme.
Elsewhere Holliger draws on broader inspirations and cross-references, juxtaposing Charles Koechlin’s Le repos de Tityre with Claude Debussy’s Syrinx. The latter, originally conveived for flute, Holliger performs on oboe d’amore, the popular baroque instrument rarely used in the late 19th and early 20th century. However, after Debussy’s Gigues Tristes, Koechlin was one of the first composers to reintroduce the instrument in his compositions.
Some of the pieces included here were not part of the original Vocalise-Étude cycle, but closely related to it, like Le rossignol by Camille Saint-Saëns, which is quoted in Saint-Saëns’s late oboe sonata. Darius Milhaud, a student of Koechlin’s, like his teacher wrote many works for the oboe repertoire, such as the Vocalise-Étude titled Air, which is exemplary of Milhaud’s polytonal language.
Ravel’s Pièce en forme de Habanera and Kaddish are also included in this recital, as is Debussy’s Petite pièce, here played on oboe d’amore, which, as Holliger puts it, “calls to mind the veiled tone of the clarinet.” The programme concludes with Robert Casadesus’s sonata op. 2, of which Heinz Holliger had been given the autograph copy by his teacher Émile Cassagnaud, which he then copied by hand.
Holliger: “My teacher had planned to record this sonata together with the composer; unfortunately, it never came to that. It is therefore all the more important for me to conclude my French recital with this work. The composer succeeds here in achieving an admirable tonal and structural balance of the two instruments, making it a great enrichment of the oboe repertoire! “
The album follows on the heels of Heinz Holliger’s multiple awards-winning large-scale opera Lunea, released in 2022.
The CD includes a booklet with liner notes by Heinz Holliger in German, French and English.
Heinz Holliger has long been recognized as one of the world’s leading oboist, with countless works written for him, by composers including Luciano Berio, Elliott Carter, Olivier Messiaen and Karlheinz Stockhausen, as well as György Kurtág. His legacy of recordings is also prodigious, and includes a large number of previous ECM albums, in which he ranges from Bach to music of the present day. ECM has also been at the forefront in presenting his work as a composer, notably with award-winning recordings of his extraordinary operas, Schneewittchen, based on the Dramolett of Robert Wasler, and Lunea, which deals with the life of poet Nikolaus Lenau, as well as his Scardanelli-Zyklus, after Hölderlin.