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Posted December 28, 2011
Let¿s start this review on a positive note. The London Philharmonic is a pretty amazing orchestra. The second piece on this CD is a live performance and for an orchestra to play so accurately for 25 minutes without one clam, is an incredible feat.
Now, less positive- the music of Honegger. The first track is ¿Pastorale d¿ete¿ and I remember as a young composition major this was one of my favourite pieces. Ah, the exuberant enthusiasms of youth. Now all the phrasing, orchestration, and contour of the music seems so predictable ¿I¿m sorry, Debussy and Ravel do it much better. In some way, the neo-classism of the 20¿s was such a bourgeoisie escape not only from the horrors of the great war, but the insecurity of the indulgent mushiness of Debussy, the atonality of Schoenberg, the still-ringing-in-my-ears, Teutonic over-the-topness of Wagner, and the barbarism of Stravinsky. And funny to this day classical music orchestras and their tin-eared, paper-shuffling bureaucracy, are looking for pieces like this to calm the patrons about their retirement funds, Johnny burning down the school, and my wife is a secret crack head etc., etc.
The second cut is Symphony no4 and is even more of a neo-classical retreat.
As I already mentioned, it¿s an astonishing performance and in retrospect the conductor Vladimir Jurowski maybe could of shaped it more in terms of tempos or climaxes. But that could have been over-cautiousness, as it was a recorded live performance. Or it is my opinion there is no guts in the music to shape to begin with. Anyway, this piece is perfect for those 4 to 6pm classical commuter stations and sounds like vaguely like English film music from the 50¿s and 60¿s with all the post Delius/Holst affectations. There are a lot of transparent contrapuntal lines (using bitonality sparingly to articulate a melody) in a faux-Mozartian (especially in the woodwinds), the composer rejecting all imaginative orchestral color as just too much work. To think that Messiaen¿s Turangalila was written around the same time and Cage, Boulez, and Stockhausen are just around the corner. The word ¿jaunty¿ springs to mind.
The final cut, Une Cantate de Noel, opens with the same predictable phrasing.
It is very difficult to buy the angst in this score, especially when it goes for the big climaxes. It¿s almost 40¿s film-music angst. This could be ¿Gone with the Wind¿. All the major Brit composers of the late 19th and 20th century do this kind of music better. To summarize the general progression of the work ¿it goes from purgatorial dark to happy faux-Handel. In the climax is a big thick sus. chord that seems wholly inappropriate . As with other Honegger climaxes, it¿s ill prepared, forced, and the seams connecting it to the rest of the music are frayed and awkward. But if you love the playing of the LPO and want some jauntiness with that, get this CD.
Posted December 22, 2011
Swiss composer Arthur Honegger is basically known for two things: being a member of ¿Les Six,¿ and writing Pacific 2-3-1. This release goes a long way towards changing that shallow impression for the better. Arthur Honegger was a consummate craftsman, writing music that was impressionistic, lyrical, full of rich harmonies, and sounded like no one else.
Symphony No. 4, written just after the end of the Second World War, is an exuberant work. Honegger incorporates two Swiss folk songs into the composition, which provide some of the thematic material Honegger rigorously develops. Although this is a light-hearted work, it¿s by no means a light one. While pleasant-sounding on the surface, the structure and depth of the composition reward careful and repeated listening.
Une Cantate de Noel was Honegger¿s final completed composition, written while he was terminally ill. Although it features several familiar Christmas carols artfully woven together, this is no treacly songs-of-the-season medley. The opening is somber and restless, reflecting Honegger¿s emotional state. As the music progresses, that mood changes, as if the composer is turning from the woes of this world, to the serenity of the next. Une Cantate is a transformative work, moving from darkness to light, returning spiritual depth to well-known (if not shop-warm) carols.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir do an excellent job, turning in remarkably clean and tight live performances. Conductor Vladimir Jurowski exhibits sure command of this material, and clearly has a deep affinity for Honegger¿s music.
Posted December 13, 2011
This new disc fom the LPO illustrates Honegger's journey from his modernist period as a member of Les Six in 1920s Paris to his less ironic and more expressive maturity in the 1940s and 50s. The earliest work on the disc, the 1920 Pastorale d'Ete, is a sometimes jaunty and jazzy trip into the countryside. It has a pastoral feel, but it's often slightly off-centre. This is a fascinating, and for me immensely appealing, seven minutes of music.
Honegger, like Villa-Lobos who took a similar journey during the same years, was swimming upstream in the post-WWII period. His 4th Symphony was designed to be just the opposite of the fashionable music of the day: accessible and expressive. In 1946 Honegger wanted to give his audience, and perhaps himself, some relief from the austerities of the post-war world. This music might have seemed old-fashioned and even banal at the time, but I appreciate its directness and simplicity.
Honegger's final composition is the 1953 Christmas Cantata, which was written during his final illness. The first movement is very dark - sombre seems too light a word for the oppressive mood Honegger creates. But of course darkness is part of many Christmas stories, from the Massacre of the Innocents to the depressing first draft of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. When Honegger lets the light in, the effect is magical. This is deeply spiritual music, well-crafted and very moving.
So much credit for this excellent disc goes to the conductor Vladimir Jurowski. As he explains at the LPO website, he believes that Honegger deserves a much higher reputation than his present quite modest ranking. Jurowski seems to have communicated this passion to the musicians who performed at the Royal Festival and Queen Elizabeth Hall concerts recorded for this CD. And he's convinced me!