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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Symphony No. 1 (1931) [21.40]
Symphony No. 2 (1942) [24.52]
Symphony No. 3 Liturgique (1946) [30.27]
Symphony No. 4 Deliciae Basilienses (1947) [28.22]
Symphony No. 5 Di tre re (1948) [24.38]
Pacific 231 (1924) [6.43]
Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse/Michel Plasson
Rec. 1977-1979, Halle-aux-Grains, Toulouse. ADD
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 7243 5 85516 2 1 [64.14+63.14]

 

The music of the First Symphony written on a Koussevitsky commission in the wake of the Pacific 231 coup is sanguine even anarchic music, rife with soloistic lines for woodwind and brass. It is closer to Stravinsky, Markevitch and Roussel than it is to romantically-inclined contemporaries although there is considerable humanity there; something you cannot always say of Markevitch or Roussel. Malcolm Macdonald in his notes points out that symphonies 2-4 form a sort of war trilogy. The Second is for strings alone and is determinedly serious, written during the German occupation of Paris. As with all five symphonies this is in three movements the last of which is an often ruthless Vivace which reminded me of Bliss’s Music for Strings. The notes and the work’s title proclaim that this is for strings and trumpet. In fact this version is recorded without. I think you will miss that consolatory grace which is as structurally important to the emotional payoff as the painfully beautiful theme that drives the long finale of the Pettersson Seventh Symphony. The Liturgique was premiered in Zurich as was its predecessor. The clarity of the recording and its impact are stunning - given the charcoal colour range this is important. In another context you might say that this has a Dickensian redolence: ‘Hard Times’, perhaps. The cruelty of some heartless machine age hangs heavily over this music especially in the first part of the finale. At 6.40 balm and tears are released and wounds heal. Honegger has written some truly tender music to end this piece. That softer emotion is continued into the peaceful Fourth Symphony which serenely evokes the delights of Basle. This is dreamily done by Plasson who manages to balance the reflective radiance of the music with the need to avoid stagnation. A Britten-like delicacy - especially in the string writing - is to be found in the angular finale which here is not quite as merry as the note-writer suggests. A heart attack shortly after the premiere of the Fourth left Honegger an invalid for his remaining eight years. In a commission that brought his symphonies full circle the Fifth, like the First, was a Koussevitsky commission. The title refers to the pianissimo note D on timpani and basses. This is heard pizzicato at the end of each movement. The Symphony is a severe and troubled work with precious little of the tender balm so beautifully on show at the end of the Liturgique. The technically adroit recording quality greatly aids Pacific 231 the piece by which most of us know Honegger. This has more to do with Mossolov’s Iron Foundry than with Coronation Scot. Steely magnificence is the order of the day. There is none of the gamin humour to be found in Villa-Lobos’s Little Train of the Caipira.

The standard UK price is £8.50 but you can get these Geminis from Crotchet or Amazon at £7.99 a piece; less than four pounds a disc. EMI strike back at Apex and Regis. In the reissue stakes this low price series should be watched carefully.

Honegger’s symphonies are compactly presented in a single width case. Good performances although I am not convinced that an even more searing effect could not have been achieved. You may care to compare the Dutoit performances on Erato-Ultima and the 1960s Baudo recordings on Supraphon.

Rob Barnett

 

 



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