Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Jaunty, accessible, sombre, spiritual Honegger

From December 13, 2011:

This new disc fom the LPO illustrates Honegger's journey from his modernist period as a member of Les Six in 1920s Paris to his less ironic and more expressive maturity in the 1940s and 50s. The earliest work on the disc, the 1920 Pastorale d'Ete, is a sometimes jaunty and jazzy trip into the countryside. It has a pastoral feel, but it's often slightly off-centre. This is a fascinating, and for me immensely appealing, seven minutes of music.

Honegger, like Villa-Lobos who took a similar journey during the same years, was swimming upstream in the post-WWII period. His 4th Symphony was designed to be just the opposite of the fashionable music of the day: accessible and expressive. In 1946 Honegger wanted to give his audience, and perhaps himself, some relief from the austerities of the post-war world. This music might have seemed old-fashioned and even banal at the time, but I appreciate its directness and simplicity.

Honegger's final composition is the 1953 Christmas Cantata, which was written during his final illness. The first movement is very dark - sombre seems too light a word for the oppressive mood Honegger creates. But of course darkness is part of many Christmas stories, from the Massacre of the Innocents to the depressing first draft of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. When Honegger lets the light in, the effect is magical. This is deeply spiritual music, well-crafted and very moving.

So much credit for this excellent disc goes to the conductor Vladimir Jurowski. As he explains at the LPO website, he believes that Honegger deserves a much higher reputation than his present quite modest ranking. Jurowski seems to have communicated this passion to the musicians who performed at the Royal Festival and Queen Elizabeth Hall concerts recorded for this CD. And he's convinced me!

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