ALBUM TITLE: Honegger & Ibert
PERFORMER: Anne-Catherine Gillet, Marc Barrard, Étienne Dupuis, Philippe Sly, Isaiah Bell, Hélène Guilmette, Marie-Nicole Lemieux; Choeur de l’OSM; Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: Decca 478 9502
L’Aiglon is very much of its time and place: memories of Napoleon in 1937, with Hitler showing his true colours just over the border. Whether it carries the same resonance today must be doubted, and for those of us whose hearts don’t miss a beat at the sound of the Marseillaise and who don’t give a nostalgic smile on hearing the folksong Il pleut, il pleut, bergère, a good deal of the work’s impact must be lost. In any case it’s a rather curious enterprise in being a collaboration between Honegger and Ibert, with Honegger assigned the more powerful acts (II and IV) and Ibert the more reflective ones (I and V) with some kind of collaboration in the central one. Here Ibert’s pseudo-Viennese waltzes obviously lent themselves to the dancing which Opéra buffs always relished, but the reputations of various Strausses are not endangered. There are no big tunes, so the folksongs in Act V do fall happily on the ear. Act IV is the undoubted high point, with the wind whistling ominously over the battlefield of Wagram (here Honegger borrowed from his film score to Abel Gance’s Napoléon).
The performance is generally excellent, apart from some rather shrill high notes from the women. But I can’t help thinking that much of the work’s original success was due to Fanny Heldy as Napoleon’s son, the Eaglet of the title: the established darling of the Opéra, in her white uniform and tights she looked an absolute knockout.