Composed between April and October 1949 -- the year before his death -- Koechlin's Second Harp Quintet (subtitled "Primavera II") is suffused with a retrospective glow that is but a wan reflection of the incandescent First Harp Quintet of 1936. His adventure into cinema-inspired music, between 1933 and 1938 -- though it produced but one score, Victoire de la vie, actually used in a film -- had the happy effect of focusing his immense originality in a number of brief, smiling pieces notable for their charm, accessible expressiveness, and the leavening of contrapuntal rigor into singing polyphony. The First "Primavera" Quintet proved the beneficiary of this general lightening -- Koechlin himself identified it, with the Septet for Winds, Op. 165, as a work of primarily melodic inspiration in which his art "grew more than ever spontaneous and alive; with greater continuity and diversity of line; with greater musical logic in the development of themes...." Between the First and Second harp quintets, Koechlin brought the major projects of his life to successful completion -- the symphonic poems La Méditation de Purun Baghat, La Loi de la jungle, and Les Bandar-Log rounding out his Jungle Book cycle; the monumental orchestral Offrande musicale sur le nom de BACH, the fruit of a lifetime of immersion in Bach's music; the Second Symphony; the long-planned Le Buisson ardent; and his "musical testament" Le Docteur Fabricius -- as he explored monodic art, orchestrated older works, assembled from them a ballet, Voyages -- Film dansé, and composed collections of pieces (with and without piano accompaniment) that vastly enriched the repertoires of such neglected instruments as the oboe, cor anglais, horn, saxophone, bassoon, and ondes martenot. And there were the returns -- the Sonate à sept for oboe, harpsichord, flute, and string quartet, looking back to the whimsical world of the Wind Septet; and the Second "Primavera" Quintet revisiting the springing gestures of the First with a slower gait. A gracious first movement, eloquently wistful, gives way to a brief saraband Intermezzo seeming to echo something distant and half-remembered. Chirpily lissome piping interrupts the predominantly elegiac Andante con moto, titled "Soleil au matin," without dispelling its moodiness. And muted vivacity sings through the final movement -- spry rather than sprightly. Apart from Koechlin's deft old-masterly touch, there is hardly anything in the quintet that would have seemed out of place a half century before. The Ensemble Pierre Jamet gave the first performance, as part of an Hommage à Charles Koechlin, over French National Radio on October 21, 1952.
Description by Adrian Corleonis
- Allegro (non troppo)
- Andante con moto (Soleil au matin)
- Final (Allegro con moto)