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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
L’Enfant Prodigue (1884) [33.01]*
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)

Symphonie Liturgique (1946) [28.54]
*Jeanine Micheau (soprano), Michel Sénéchal (tenor), Pierre Mollet (bass)
Turin Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/André Cluytens
rec. 30 April 1962 (Debussy), 4th May 1962 (Honegger), Auditorio RAI Torino
ARTS ARCHIVES 43059 2 [63.54]


André Cluytens (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.

Honegger’s Symphonie 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 created.

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 tempo.

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.

Terry Barfoot

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