Recordings of art songs by Charles Koechlin would seem to be very few and far between, which thus makes this Hyperion album of considerable interest to admirers of this composer. This album contains one complete song cycle, "Sept chansons pour Gladys" from 1935, as well as scattered songs taken from various opus numbers, such as 4 songs from Koechlin's op. 1, 4 from op. 8, single songs from his opp. 5, 7, 13, 22, 35, and 68, as well as two songs from op. 31. These last songs set poems by such authors as Maurice de Marsan, Albert Samain, Sully Prudhomme, Edmond Haraucourt, Paul Verlaine, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, and Theodore de Banville.
In the case of the "Sept chansons pour Gladys", the "Gladys" refers to the fictional character of Gladys O'Halloran from the 1931 Anatole Litvak film "Calais-Douvres", portrayed by the actress Lilian Harvey. If you remember that Koechlin wrote a work called the "Seven Stars Symphony", where the stars in question were movie actors, then this idea of a song cycle based on a fictitious character played by a movie actress then doesn't sound so surprising. The songs of the cycle are quite short, and tend to have similar middle-of-the-road tempi. In fact, that is the case with many of the songs on this CD, that their tempi generally hover within a pretty consistent range, again in that kind of moderate, walking to ambulatory kind of pace. This changes towards the end of the CD, where several of the Theodore de Banville setting utilize brisker tempi compared to most of the prior selections. Interestingly, those more briskly paced settings tend to be shorter in running time, at the risk of stating the incredibly obvious, but after you listen to the album, you'll understand better what I mean.
The ordering of the songs is also a bit curious, as they are not grouped by opus number, except for the op. 151 "Sept chansons de Gladys", of course. I'm not sure why the artists didn't bundle together the songs by their respective opus number, i.e. having all the op. 1 selections as a group and all the op. 8 selections as a group. Instead, the artists scatter the songs about, for reasons that I honestly can't fathom.
Claudette Leblanc is a Canadian soprano originally from New Brunswick, and sings generally well on this album. Sometimes her diction gets slightly mushy and she smudges a rare word or two, like in track 8, "Fatum" from the "Sept chansons de Gladys", where instead of the phrase "aussi clair", she sings "aurait clair". Pianist Boaz Sharon, currently the chair of the piano department in the Department of Music at Boston University, does a fine job as accompanist.
For those who want to explore a neglected by-way of French art songs, any qualifiers notwithstanding, you might find this album of interest.