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Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Jeanne d’Arc Au Bucher (Joan of Arc at the Stake) (1938)
Marion Cotillard - Jeanne d’Arc
Xavier Gallais - Frère Dominique
Yann Beuron - Porcus, Héraut I, Le clerc
Maria Hinojosa - La vierge
Aude Extrémo - Catherine
Anna Moreno-Lasalle - La mère aux tonneaux
Eric Martin-Bonnet - Une voix, Héraut II, Paysan
Carles Romero Vidal - Héraut, L’âne, Bedford, Jean de Luxembourg
Pep Planas – L’Appariteur, Robert de Chartres, Guillaume de Flavy, Perrot, Un Prêtre
Lieder Càmera Choir; Madrigal Choir; Vivaldi–Petits Cantors de Catalunya Choir
Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra/Marc Soustrot
rec. live. Sala Pau Casals, L’Auditori, Barcelona, Spain, 17 November 2012
ALPHA 709 [75:11]

Arthur Honegger was the only non-French member of the group known as Les Six. Indeed when he arrived in Paris from his native Switzerland, he knew very little French - just enough to order food and drink. This led to him being particularly vilified by certain aspects of the French press. To compose a work based on the final moments of France’s national heroine met with scepticism at best. However, from the work's premiere in 1938 Jeanne d’Arc Au Bucher enjoyed both critical and popular acclaim making it one of Honegger’s best known and oft-performed pieces.

It is a complex work, one which the composer described as a ‘dramatic oratorio’ to a text by Paul Claudel. It has nearly as many speaking roles as sung ones; the role of Joan is itself a purely spoken one. There's even an early prominent position for the ondes Martenot, which was played at the premiere by its inventor, Maurice Martenot. Sadly the performer in this new production is not credited.

There have been a number of very fine recordings of Jeanne d’Arc Au Bucher over the years, many from live performances. I first came into contact with the work through Serge Baudo’s recording for Supraphon (11 0557-2), although my personal favourite was that by Seiji Ozawa for Deutsche Grammophon (429 412-2). This new recording rivals and in some ways surpasses what has gone before. Here the actor Marion Cotillard is a better Joan than Marthe Keller for Ozawa. She is able to portray the vulnerability as well as the strength of the character more than Keller. As a singer/songwriter she gives a more musical portrayal and that gets the timings spot-on. Xavier Gallais as her confessor, Frère Dominique, is better matched to the role than Georges Wilson is for Ozawa. The rest of the speaking and sung roles are quite close. It is hard to choose a favourite between them and we are treated to excellent performances by Cotillard and Gallais especially in their final moments. The Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra are the equal of the Orchestre National de France for Ozawa. If anything this live recording is a little bit better than Ozawa’s from 1989 which lacks a little bit of clarity in comparison with this new recording. The new disc is attractively packaged in an enhanced digipack, which is only about a millimetre wider than a regular plastic CD case, yet it holds an 84 page booklet containing good notes and full text and translation. My new favourite recording of this work.

Stuart Sillitoe


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