HONEGGER Symphony No 4. Summer Pastoral. A Christmas Cantata
While there is strength to some of Honegger’s works, not least his oratorio Le roi David and the orchestral Pacific 231 and Symphonie liturgique (his Symphony No 3), this curious disc seems intent, for the most part, on suggesting that he possessed an uncommon ability to induce catalepsy in his listeners. The Fourth Symphony of 1946, written to a commission from his Swiss compatriot Paul Sacher, is subtitled Deliciae basiliensis – the Delights of Basle – and is crafted with impeccable, watchmaker precision in terms of some interesting rhythmic syncopations and, in general, a bristling command of instrumental timbre. However, the moments that catch the ear are interspersed with others where Honegger seems to be treading water, or where he seems to be flexing his contrapuntal muscles in a clever-clever way or making a stab at humour.
What a strange conundrum the symphony is, but the LPO play it as though they meant every note. It was recorded live at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall (while the Festival Hall was still closed for renovation) in March 2007, along with the Pastoral d’été of 1920. That was the year in which the iconoclastic group of Les Six, in which Honegger was included, really came into being, but Pastorale d’été shows him clinging on to sounds of the 19th century, not without some skill but with little to identify him as a distinctive voice. The well-made, heartfelt and ultimately jubilant Une cantate de Noël of 1953, recorded at the RFH in 2009, is altogether more uplifting.