Honegger Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher
There are passages in some musical works that never fail to bring a lump to my throat: for one, the final pages of Ravel's
The diversity of Claudel's partly realistic, partly symbolic treatment of the subject—almost cinematic, like a long flashback—was mirrored in the music, which incorporates all kinds of techniques and styles. Alongside purely spoken sections (neither of the chief characters, Joan and Brother Dominic, sings) there are choral singing, humming and shouting; and stylistically, besides often elaborate polyphony, the work contains folksong, Gregorian antiphon, jazz rhythms and baroque dances. The orchestra (in which horns are replaced by saxophones) includes two pianos and (famously) an Ondes Martenot which, as well as providing the ''dog howling in the night'', powerfully reinforces some climaxes—blood-curdlingly in the moments just before Joan breaks her earthly chains.
It is a work of compelling power and, in the final scenes, of almost intolerable emotional intensity, yet Honegger modestly insisted that his function had been merely to underline Claudel's precisely indicated effects: musically he was anxious to make it all ''accessible to the common man while retaining the interest of the musician''. Ozawa's reading certainly brings out the dramatic force of the whole, and except for a very occasional flaw such as is inevitable in a live performance, the forces under his control do splendidly. There are no major singing roles, but John Aler is a properly vainglorious Porcus, and mention must be made of the beautiful voice of Francoise Pollet as the Virgin. Marthe Keller (who initially might have been a trifle more strongly recorded) makes the most of the name-part and well conveys Joan's bewilderment, fervour and agony. Vast as the Basilique Saint-Denis is, the balance and clarity of the recording are mostly extremely good, calling for praise for the sound engineers.'