(1905-1967) was among the great conductors
of the 20th century. His
legacy includes many fine recordings
of French music, naturally enough, while
there is also a particularly successful
Beethoven symphonies cycle, the latter
long available on Classics for Pleasure.
His relationship with
the Turin Radio Orchestra during the
1960s sounds as if it was a happy one.
They play well for him at every stage,
in music that can hardly have been familiar
to them. Yet both performances are distinguished
by disciplined orchestral playing, with
both corporate and individual flair.
The remastered recordings are successful
and colourful too.
The Debussy cantata
The Prodigal Son is an early
piece, composed for Debussy’s successful
attempt at the Prix de Rome. It can
hardly have received a better, more
committed performance than this live
one from Turin. There are three distinguished
soloists, among whom the soprano Jeanine
Micheau is on excellent form. And she
needs to be, because the microphone
placings favour the soloists in the
balance against the orchestra.
Cluytens moves the
music along nicely with tempi that always
seem appropriate, and the audience is
generally well behaved - somewhat more
so than in the Honegger symphony. Debussy’s
cantata emerges as a strong piece, well
worth hearing and certainly not the
apprentice trial composition it in fact
was. The text is printed in the booklet,
but without translation.
Liturgique (his No. 3) is yet another
great symphony from the 20th
century’s richest symphonic decade.
The three movements – Dies Irae,
De Profundis Clamavi and Don
Nobis Pacem – use liturgical imageries
to maximum effect. The whole work has
a depth of feeling and sense of purpose
of such an order that it is appropriate
to consider the piece the best Honegger
Cluytens directs a
performance of real intensity and vision.
In a couple of quieter moments in the
slow movement the odd audience member
makes the occasional intrusion, though
this is never an enduring problem. Orchestral
discipline is of a high order, not least
in the fast opening movement, in which
Cluytens offers no respite to his demanding
The central slow movement
has some distinguished playing, the
principal flute faring well in the exposed
solos that occur in the finale too.
The attention to details of dynamic
shading is exemplary, making it more
of a pity that the corporate discipline
did not extend to the audience also.
The principal theme
of the finale is taken at a strong pace,
but not too fast. Therefore the music
develops a real symphonic weight as
it moves towards the crisis that releases
the final ‘Song of the Bird’, the vision
of peace with which the work ends. While
this reissue does not give the listener
as overwhelming an experience as the
best available recordings (probably
Karajan on DG and Jansons on EMI) in
what is a quite a crowded field, it
is a magnificent performance that does
Honegger justice. And there is not much
more for which we can ask.