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LABELS: Sinfonieorchester Basel
ALBUM TITLE: Honegger: Symphonies Nos 2 & 4
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 2 & 4
PERFORMER: Sinfonieorchester Basel/Dennis Russell Davies


Honegger’s Second Symphony belongs to the Beethovenian tradition of a struggle towards the light – in this case the specific light of a hoped-for Allied victory after the horrors of the German Occupation of Paris. Although he could, as a Swiss national, have sat out the conflict in his home country, Honegger chose to remain in Paris, the city that had given him his training and career. The sombre opening and the grey (or grey-green) tints of the central Adagio therefore speak of his own contemporary experience. The Basel Symphony Orchestra manages to find variety within the overall gloom, but, even so, the hopeful finale always comes as a huge relief, as the key of D major gradually asserts itself. For the climactic chorale, Honegger gave the option of a solo trumpet to double the violins. Optional it may be, but even so it has to blaze out triumphantly. Here the rapture is somewhat dampened.

In 1946 Honegger felt entitled to escape the postwar privations of Paris for Switzerland and ‘the affection of close friends’. The Fourth Symphony, written that year, ‘follows in the footsteps of Haydn and Mozart’ and this performance revels in the clear shaping of ideas, and no less in the virtuoso counterpoint culminating in the last movement in five themes played simultaneously. Textures, too, are well characterised, from punchy Stravinskyan chords to delightful birdsong – and Russell Davies avoids the trap of letting the dynamics of the finale rise too soon.


Roger Nichols