Honegger

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Honegger
LABELS: Alpha
ALBUM TITLE: Honegger
WORKS: Jeanne d’arc au bûcher
PERFORMER: Marion Cotillard, Xavier Gallais, Yann Beuron, Maria Hinojosa, Marta Almajano, Aude Extrémo, Anna Moreno-Lasalle, Eric Martin-Bonnet, Carles Romero Vidal, Pep Planas; Lieder Camera Choir, Madrigal Choir, Vivaldi-Petits cantors de Catalunya Choir; Barcelona Symphony & Catalonia National Orchestra/Marc Soustrot
CATALOGUE NO: 708; CD: 709

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A work of impassioned emotions, Honegger’s Jeanne d’arc au bûcher sits on the boundary between opera, musical theatre and oratorio. A collaboration with Paul Claudel, it was first heard in 1938, but became bound-up with the occupation when the writer and composer added the prologue with its meditation of the dark, perilous state of France. Conceived as a piece of total theatre in the Wagnerian mould, Jeanne and Frère Dominique are played by actors, while other characters are sung. The chorus and orchestra also have key roles in the drama, the latter replacing horns with saxophones and including a striking ondes Martenot part that not only swoops and squeals, but disturbingly depicts howling dogs.

While some form of staging is the ideal, the norm tends to be a concert performance, as in this live recording, released simultaneously on CD and DVD, from the Sala Pau Casals. Nonetheless, the superb acting skills of the principals temper the absence of staging on the dimly lit DVD, making this compelling viewing though, with stereo rather than surround sound, there is no aural benefit over the CD. Marion Cotillard movingly captures Jeanne’s wildly contrasting moods while Xavier Gallas is consoling yet determined in supporting her. Among the singers, tenor Yann Beuron is the pick of a decidedly mixed bunch, notably as an especially emphatic Porcus. The others struggle at times, though the charm of Eric Martin-Bonnet is apparent on the DVD.

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Marc Soustrot effectively marshals his disparate forces and, even if there is scope to be a touch more driven at times, the combined Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra sizzle with appropriate intensity. Most impressive of all, though, are the searing choral contributions that are convincing in their heartfelt gallic fervour, from an oppressed people, via baying crowd to angelic host. Christopher Dingle