HONEGGER Symphony No 2 SCHOENBERG Verklärte Nacht
The Baltic Chamber Orchestra from St Petersburg follow up their canny pairing of Strauss’s Metamorphosen and Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony greatly enjoyed by Rob Cowan (A/17) with another neat partnership. This Verklärte Nacht has the same tensile phrasing but the playing is altogether more solid than in that wired and wiry portrayal from the Trondheim Soloists with Alisa Weilerstein (Pentatone, 10/18). I may be projecting but the chords at 15'40" seem to carry a distinctly Russian breadth and heft, even if it’s actually the beauteous luminosity of the sound – particularly towards the end – that affects the most and gets to the heart of the poetry.
Honegger’s Symphony No 2 from four decades later, scored for string orchestra with a culminating trumpet cameo, requires much of the same discipline of phrasing and delineation. Tempo choices and pacing are key for a score in which broad themes and looping chants are often laid over faster, more mechanical material and a process of coalescence ensues (the pared-down aesthetic means there’s no room to hide). No problems there, and Emmanuel Leducq-Barôme finds a special atmosphere in the slow middle movement. Yes, yes, eschewing the grand gesture was Honegger’s whole shtick, but the trumpet-crowned finale – a chorale promising victory to war-battered Paris – gets in and out of its climax very quickly and can feel blithe. Might weary Parisians who’d heard Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony, premiered three months earlier, have felt let down?