WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Prélude, arioso et fughette sur le nom de BACH; Ricercar a 6 from Musikalisches Opfer; Die Kunst der Fuge (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Lucerne Festival Strings/Achim Fiedler
CATALOGUE NO: OC 301 (distr. +49 9907 89081; www.oehmsclassics.de)
New recordings of Honegger’s Second Symphony are always welcome, especially when they are presented within programmes as thought-provoking as these. Lucerne Festival Strings have a little more direction to the crucial opening bars of the Symphony than the Baltic CO, although both are distinctly straitlaced when placed alongside the fluidity and yearning beauty of Münch’s classic account (EMI). The Lucerne players are leaden-footed in the ensuing Allegro, yet find suitable joie de vivre for the breathless finale. Conversely, the Baltic forces take no prisoners, the close recording ensuring that the Allegro is driven home with all the finesse of a sledgehammer. Similarly, the violins rip through the jagged corners of their counter-melody in the final movement in a thrillingly frenetic attempt to find the redemption of the chorale tune. Unfortunately, when it finally arrives, the trumpet is placed so far forward that, rather than adding a new dimension marking the transformation from despair to luminescent beacon of hope, the effect is like spray-painting a smiley face on Picasso’s Guernica.
The couplings are similarly mixed, the excerpts from The Art of Fugue being four-square in the hands of the Lucerne strings. Nevertheless, the idea of following Bach’s incomplete fugue on the letters of his own name with Honegger’s Prélude, arioso et fughette is extremely effective. While no match for the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan (DG), the Baltic CO gives a stylish account of Strauss’s Metamorphosen, although there are times when it comes dangerously close to rambling rather than remembering. Christopher Dingle