HONEGGER Symphonies Nos 2 & 4
These two fine Honegger symphonies make for an invigorating coupling, the gritty and muscular Second for strings and trumpet from 1940 41 (composed in Nazi-occupied Paris) forming a bold contrast with the altogether more sanguine, luminously scored Fourth from 1946. The latter bears the subtitle Deliciae basiliensis in heartfelt tribute to the city that provided its Swiss creator with wartime sanctuary.
Honegger’s great friend and tireless champion Charles Munch was the dedicatee of the Second Symphony, and the second of his five recordings, with the Boston SO from March 1953, evinces a hair-raising intensity not equalled by Munch’s 1968 swansong with the Orchestre de Paris (EMI, 12/69). Karajan’s famous DG recording remains one of the highlights of his vast discography and I also have a lot of time for Ansermet, Baudo, Jansons and Zinman with the OSR, Czech PO, Oslo PO and Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich on Australian Eloquence, Supraphon, EMI and Decca respectively. Dennis Russell Davies presides over the most intrepidly spacious account I have ever encountered; but, for all the undeniable polish and co ordination on show, there’s a pervasive mood of chilly detachment that repeated hearings have yet to dispel.
It’s a similar tale in the Fourth, where comparison with another live offering, namely Vladimir Jurowski’s exquisitely lithe and affectionately shaped LPO version from March 2007 (2/12), is not to this newcomer’s advantage; indeed, by its side Davies’s defiantly unhurried conception leaves a curiously stern impression – I find myself craving greater thrust, radiant charm and poignancy. Nor would I prefer it to a healthy clutch of rivals – Baudo, Munch, Ansermet and Dutoit all spring to mind – though there’s no denying that the Basle SO respond with laudable discipline for their Chief Conductor. Perhaps the somewhat clinical sound is also to blame, who knows, but overall this is not really a disc to which I can imagine myself returning terribly often.