HONEGGER Le roi David
These Swiss forces present Honegger’s first, 1923 revision of Le roi David that maintained the 17-strong instrumental ensemble of the operatic original but introduced spoken dialogue that was intended to quicken the dramatic pace.
Straight away that narration proves this recording’s Achilles heel. It is either recorded in a separate studio or produced to sound as such; the effect is akin to constantly switching between a live performance and an isolated studio commentary. Christophe Balissat’s monochrome delivery doesn’t help, especially when you hear it shunted up against the Prophetess’s railing Sprechgesang in ‘Incantation’.
No real problems with the other vocal contributions. Soprano Lucie Chartin can sound a little pinched up top but is otherwise clean and occasionally radiant; mezzo Marianne Beate Kielland is shapely and supple; but Thomas Walker’s declamatory, arresting singing with idiomatic French is best of all.
Honegger’s choral writing was designed to accommodate amateurs (despite what the booklet-note says) and the semi-professional Ensemble Vocal de Lausanne do well to sing with open throats and not sound too clipped. There are some vivid moments: the lurching ‘Chorus of Philistines’; the organ-like winds at the opening of ‘The Dance Before the Ark’; the grain and texture in Honegger’s masterly final pages. But for a musical aesthetic that was conceived to cut through with directness, the recessed, smooth feeling to both the recording and the performance are far from ideal and that sterile narration is a deal-breaker. At a lower price, Michel Piquemal on Naxos solves those problems.