Poulenc, Honegger

COMPOSERS: Honegger,Poulenc
LABELS: RCO Live
ALBUM TITLE: Poulenc , Honegger
WORKS: Gloria; Symphony No. 3 (Litergique)
PERFORMER: Luba Orgonásová (soprano); Netherlands Radio Choir; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: 06003 (hybrid CD/SACD)
I well remember the delighted outrage the Poulenc Gloria caused among students in the polite purlieus of a certain British university in the early 1960s. Since then it’s come to be the most popular French work after Boléro, but I feel that, even 40 years on, it still shouldn’t sound safe, let alone polite. Maybe it’s the work of the recording engineers, but there’s not much punch here, not much throwing of hats in the air. Clearer words would help, both from the chorus and from the soloist, whose vibrato is also not above suspicion. And those breathstopping, twice-heard sudden keydips on ‘pater omnipotens’ go for little. Janice Watson and Yan Pascal Tortelier’s BBC Philharmonic forces on Chandos do so much more with everything, and she is the exemplar of the ‘soprano pur et ppp dans l’aigu’ that Poulenc asked for.

Advertisement

Honegger’s Third Symphony requires muscle and weight, as well as a command of sensuous legato. There’s legato here, and accuracy throughout, but again some inner fire seems not quite to have caught. If I have to cite one killer fact, it is that the final gong at the end of the second movement sounds a low C sharp below the notated bass of the double bassoon’s E. As this is meant to lead on to the 22 bars of low Es at the start of the third movement, something should have been done. It pains me rather to say so, but Karajan is still the nonpareil in this magnificent masterpiece. Roger Nichols