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Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Symphony No. 3 Liturgique (1945)
Pacific 231 (1923)
Mouvement Symphonique No. 3 (1933)
Rugby (1928)
Pastorale d’été (1920)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
Recorded 23-25 January 2002, Wellington Town Hall, New Zealand
NAXOS 8.555974 [65.04]


The Liturgique goes back to 1949 for its first recording, only four years after the Symphony was completed. This was a rather subfusc Parisian set under the composer and it’s recently been revivified by Music & Arts. Adherents will have the Dutoit cycle of all the symphonies perhaps, though when it comes to the Liturgique Karajan’s recording has long been a lodestar of orchestral refinement and compelling narrative drama.

Recorded with great presence in Wellington Town Hall with an orchestra straining at the bit and a conductor displaying assurance, this is a fine addition to the composer’s symphonic discography. The first movement ostinati are excellent, lower brass potent and the strings play with sinewy, sinuous direction. The rhythm is well sprung. Though they don’t match the sheer beauty of tone of the Berlin orchestra in its heyday there is still nothing small scale about the NZSO – listen to the fine tonal blend of the violas and cellos in the Adagio (De Profundis Clamavi), a movement that may well be the best known but here is perfectly scaled. Even as the music grows darker, at around 5.30 the subsequent outbursts are controlled and the transition to the earlier material is as if translucent, as if in dreamlike veil. The March rhythms of the finale are well balanced by the crude brazenness of the writing and by the consoling hopefulness of the conclusion. A fine performance, this, well deserving of your time.

The couplings are mostly the usual suspects, which makes me suspect this is a one-off and not a symphonic cycle. Still Rugby emerges with its colourfully oppositional martial machinery intact – not surprising that a New Zealand band can dig into this piece with relish – and the trumpeters acquit themselves with honour in their tough play in the Mouvement Symphonique No. 3. After the passion and drive comes the calm – and balm – of Pastorale d’été, which traces his (1920) self, all colour and nature-depicting impressionism, with tact and glint and shade.

For Honegger aficionados, who will have these many times over, maybe this is an indulgence, though a very cheap one and a very worthwhile one. For others this is a real contender, excellently recorded, and finely played.

Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by Terry Barfoot and Paul Shoemaker



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