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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
L’Enfant Prodigue (1884) [34.15]
Lia – Jeanine Micheau (soprano)
Azaël – Michel Sénéchal (tenor)
Siméon – Pierre Mollet (baritone)
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)

Symphony No.3 Liturgique –H186 (1946) [28.35]
Choir and Orchestra of RAI, Turin/André Cluytens
Recorded live in Turin in April (Debussy) and May (Honegger) 1962
ARTS ARCHIVES 43059-2 [63.54]

Cluytens was enjoying considerable renown on disc at around the time he was taped in Turin. On the rostrum his career never quite matched his eminence as a recording conductor – or that’s how it seems in retrospect – though by 1960 he was head of the Belgian National Orchestra. That great cycle of the Beethoven symphonies he set down a few years earlier in Berlin is one of his greatest legacies but these two dates with the Choir and Orchestra of RAI, Turin, shows how proficient he must have been as a guest conductor and, incidentally, how well drilled the orchestral and choral forces were.

Students of performance practice can note, once again, how tempi have slowed in symphonic works such as the Honegger. Clearly, if the performances of Munch, Baudo and Cluytens are anything to go by performances of Honegger in the 1950s and early to mid 1960s was considerably faster than we can expect nowadays. This is most noticeable in the great slow movements. The important point to note is that the symphonic proportions are properly maintained. Both Baudo, with the Czech Philharmonic, and Cluytens, here, take the De Profundis Clamavi at a forward moving tempo that seems rather alien to current preoccupations with expressive anguish; a recent Naxos recordings, finely played though it was, took nearly fifteen minutes to Cluytens’ 11.50 and Baudo’s 12.10. The uniformity of tempo in the three movements gives it a far more compact and, in my view, more cohesive tension when performed like this, no matter how lavish or beautiful the sheen when taken to extremes (i.e. von Karajan).

The Turin orchestra plays well; the string choirs blend attractively, sectional discipline is tight, the brass punch out, the winds are well balanced. That slow movement is more austere than we are now used to and it bears strong similarities with Baudo’s approach in his Czech cycle both in tempo and in sonority and colour. The basses are "tangy" in their moments of crisis, and solidly dark hued whilst the lower brass is blackened. Radiance is hard won, not Elysian; it emerges through crises and is not predestined or ordained. As in all the better performances we feel a sense of journey, crisis, resolution and emergence. The finale is strongly delineated, brisk but relaxing with acute judgement with a sense of arching romanticism and urgent drama. All the transitions are well handled and the sense of unity at the end is palpable.

Debussy’s early L’Enfant Prodigue receives an equally persuasive reading abetted as it is by three idiomatic voices. Fortunately the balance is once again pretty good, though not always consistently – the Turin radio engineers were on generally good form as were their orchestral and choral compatriots – and there’s sufficient air around the voices. The orchestral patina is malleable, warm and liquid, the rhythms are finely sprung in Je m’enfuis whilst the trio and finale Mon Coeur receives a genuinely noble and effective climax.

The text is printed in French only and there are some good notes from Alan Sanders. This strikes me as more than a mere souvenir of Cluytens – it’s an admirable performance of the Honegger and a warm one of the Debussy and it reflects well on Arts to have released it.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Terry Barfoot



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