Honegger Orchestral Works

Author: 
Robert Layton
Honegger Orchestral WorksHonegger Orchestral Works

Honegger Orchestral Works

  • Symphony No. 2
  • Symphony No. 3, 'Liturgique'
  • (3) Symphonic Movements, Pacific 231, H53

The Honegger symphonies have been well served on CD in recent years. Both the Symphony for Strings (No. 2) and the Symphonie Liturgique are represented in the current catalogue by 11 and 12 versions respectively, though the commanding heights are still dominated by the famous Karajan coupling listed above. Mariss Jansons and the Oslo Philharmonic face the challenge head on by coupling the two together and rise magnificently to the occasion. Indeed I am not so sure that this is not their best record to date.
The Symphony for Strings is concentrated and intense, with attention being given to every nuance of phrasing and dynamics, and every detail falling naturally into place. The Oslo strings produce a highly responsive and sumptuous sonority, subtle in blending and homogeneous in tone. Rhythms are keenly and powerfully articulated and the sense of forward momentum is artfully controlled. The Symphonie Liturgique is no less concentrated and powerful, emotion being refined and disciplined. Nothing is over-projected; the various strands in the orchestral texture are beautifully balanced and phrases eloquently yet effortlessly shaped. There is no question of its compelling mastery and moreover its white-heat is generated without any of the hysteria this score can at times excite. Indeed, I was reminded of a phrase by the French critic, Bernard Gavoty in a letter to Karajan quoted by Richard Osborne in his Conversations with Karajan (Oxford: 1989) which spoke of him ''transcending emotions and imparting to them that furnace heat that makes a work of genius give off light if brought to the desired temperature'': this performance has that same incandescence. There are, I know, those who think some of this partnership's records have been overpraised (for example, their Tchaikovsky cycle from the mid-1980s), but they need have no doubts in this instance.
To sum up, then, Jansons's account of the two symphonies unquestionably the best to have appeared since Karajan's classic account and has the advantage of quite outstanding recorded sound, with plenty of presence, bite and definition. The Pacific 231 completes the disc and makes a splendid bonus. One of the best orchestral discs to have come my way for a long time.'

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