Honegger's music is here presented in its original
context. What we have is a golden age radio play written for an intelligent
and knowledge-acquisitive audience. The only thing that marks this production
out from many of a host of productions by the BBC are the echoey church
acoustic and the American accents.
The scheme into which is woven Honegger's music is
that of a vision - the presentation recalls the format of Pilgrim's
Progess and Swift's Gulliver's Travels. This is a plot and
morality 'in the similitude of a dream'. In this we are lead by 'The
Magician' who shows us the fearsome visions of 15th century Europe -
with war, burnings and plagues. Rawson acts as narrator and link throughout.
The music is written in a deliberately accessible but
not bland style. Honegger leans on his St Joan at the Stake manner.
I am not sure it would sustain a concert suite but Honegger is obviously
an adept at atmosphere - its creation, and intensification. His manner
can be jaunty as in Farewell Christophe Colomb - which is cinema
march material. The prologue has some macabre music which unknowingly
looks forward to the closing pages of Martinu's Enkidu vision in the
Epic of Gilgamesh. Time after time the composer whose name comes
to mind is Vaughan Williams rather than Honegger's own or those of his
mainland continental confrères.
The singers and instrumentalists seem to have been
well rehearsed with the performances being polished and sometimes alive
with sadness - for example in Isabella's farewell to Columbus and to
life [tr 21]. The baritone has little to do - just one substantial sweet-toned
solo [tr 15]. The concluding Libera Me follows on from the sorrowing
of the farewell in a finale part cloudy, funereal march and part lament.
This is 'anchored' by calming strokes on the tam-tam.
The notes (in English, French and German) are by Jeremy
This is the work's first and, as far as I am aware,
The packaging format is governed by the decision to
print the words in the booklet. At 62pp the English-only booklet would
never have fitted into the standard jewel box. The booklet and the standard
jewel case fit easily into the card slipcase.
Is it too much to hope that some entrepreneur will
strike a deal with the BBC (and others) to release the sophisticated
music-and-words radio plays that have been given in the UK? My personal
dreamlist would include: The Gulliver's Travels tapes using the
music of Humphrey Searle (1980s), Brecht's Svejk in the Second World
War with music by Hanns Eisler and Flecker's Hassan with
music by Delius.
Well done Mode. This Honegger entry is a little out
of the company's accustomed track. Much of their catalogue is taken
up by Cage, Crumb and others from the current or one-time avant-garde
now even more out of conventional fashion than the Honegger. Do not
neglect their idiosyncratic catalogue which kicks the trends of the
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