WORKS: Concerto da camera; Petite suite; Antigone; Oboe Concerto; Trois danses; Petite complainte; Pièce brève
PERFORMER: Heinz Holliger (oboe/cor anglais), Ursula Holliger (harp), Aurèle Nicolet (flute), John Constable (piano); Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
CATALOGUE NO: 434 105-2 DDD
Everyone knows Pacific 231 (Honegger’s musical depiction of an express steam locomotive) or the title at least. But Honegger was an eclectic composer whose achievement was substantial both in quantity and quality. Of these three new issues, Plasson’s well played and recorded survey successfully covers many aspects of the composer’s personality. The suites from the film music inspired by the aviator Mermoz are richly colourful; and rarely can the Pastorale d’été have sounded more languorous, the complete antithesis to the challenging intensity of La tempête and Horace victorieux.
Järvi’s Pacific 231 is more exciting still than Plasson’s, for which all credit to the Danish brass, who excel also in Honegger’s orchestral masterpiece, the Symphonie liturgique. The performance is strong, though somewhat wanting in concentration in the slow movement, De profundis – perhaps the lack of body in the violin sound is responsible. But both the Liturgique and the Fifth emerge as highly individual statements of impressive and uncompromising conviction. Indeed, the former ranks among the very finest symphonies of our century. It is a response to the horrors of war which seeks – and achieves – a belief in mankind’s future, as represented in the serenely beautiful postlude, emerging from the crisis of the finale’s overwhelmingly powerful climax.
Another side of Honegger is found in the lightweight Concerto da camera – which has the unusual combination of flute and cor anglais soloists. Here both Nicolet and Holliger are on top form. The disc also features other attractive neo-classical pieces by Frank Martin and Martinu. Terry Barfoot