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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Christoph Colomb (1940)

Radio Play by William Aguet
Music by Arthur Honegger
Stratton Rawson - Magician
Neil Garvey - Christopher Columbus
Anthony Furnival - King Ferdinand
Elaine Knecht - Queen Isabella
Radio Actors: Christopher Drajem; Erich Adamoschek; Golde; Danice Kowalczyk; Erin Markle; Andrew Roth
Daniel McCabe (bar) (Me Lopee)
English translation by Elaine Knecht and Tom Crann
Buffalo Chorus and Orchestra of Opera Sacra/Charles Peltz
rec St Joseph's University Church, Buffalo, New York, 30-31 Oct 1992
MODE mode 35 [60.01]


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 Noble.

This is the work's first and, as far as I am aware, only recording.

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 suited majors.


Rob Barnett


AVAILABILITY

MODE
PO Box 1026
New York
NY 10116 USA


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