Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

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LABELS: FY/Solstice
WORKS: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher
PERFORMER: Muriel Chaney, Alain Cuny (speakers); Nice PO & Choirs/Jean-Marc Cochereau
Honegger’s oratorios deserve much greater recognition. It is not necessary to listen to Le roi David for long to recognise the debt owed to it by Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. More importantly, they are intrinsically great works, astonishing for their range of invention and their emotional intensity.


A collaboration with (an initially reluctant) Claudel, Joan of Arc at the Stake is one of Honegger’s more startling achievements. The text travels in flashback through Joan’s life, making the stake at Rouen a point of departure and the ultimate goal of her existence. Initially completed in 1935, a prologue was added in 1944 comparing France’s divisions in 1940 to those during the Hundred Years War. The music for this intense drama ranges from echoes of Debussy’s Le martyre de Saint Sébastien to the inclusion of ‘popular’ elements, and from surreal effects to the use of unusual instruments such as an ondes martenot. Jean-Marc Cochereau has a keen sense of dramatic pacing, but is periodically let down by poor balance resulting in an aural mess in the big scenes. There are some captivating passages, particularly in the more intimate moments, but this account does not begin to challenge Seiji Ozawa’s enthralling performance on DG. Christopher Dingle