Honegger More Than One-Hit Wonder

Swiss composer Arthur Honegger is basically known for two things: being a member of “Les Six,” and writing Pacific 2-3-1. This release goes a long way towards changing that shallow impression for the better. Arthur Honegger was a consummate craftsman, writing music that was impressionistic, lyrical, full of rich harmonies, and sounded like no one else.

The album opens with Honegger’s tone poem Pastorale d’ete. Composed on holiday in the Swiss alps, this short work is a wonderful sonic postcard from and makes a great opener for the program.

Symphony No. 4, written just after the end of the Second World War, is an exuberant work. Honegger incorporates two Swiss folk songs into the composition, which provide some of the thematic material Honegger rigorously develops. Although this is a light-hearted work, it’s by no means a light one. While pleasant-sounding on the surface, the structure and depth of the composition reward careful and repeated listening.

Une Cantate de Noel was Honegger’s final completed composition, written while he was terminally ill. Although it features several familiar Christmas carols artfully woven together, this is no treacly songs-of-the-season medley. The opening is somber and restless, reflecting Honegger’s emotional state. As the music progresses, that mood changes, as if the composer is turning from the woes of this world, to the serenity of the next. Une Cantate is a transformative work, moving from darkness to light, returning spiritual depth to well-known (if not shop-warm) carols.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir do an excellent job, turning in remarkably clean and tight live performances. Conductor Vladimir Jurowski exhibits sure command of this material, and clearly has a deep affinity for Honegger’s music.

If you’re not familiar with Honegger, or – worse yet – only know his one hit, this disc can be a revelation.

Honegger: Symphony No. 4, Pastorale d’Ete, Une Cantate de Noel 
London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir; New London Children’s Choir; Vladimir Jurowski, conductor; Christopher Maltman, baritone
LSO Media

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