Symphony No.4 (Deliciae Basilienses)
Une Cantate de Noël
Christopher Maltman (baritone)
New London Children’s Choir
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded on 28 March 2007 in Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (Pastorale d’été; Symphony 4) and 5 December 2009 in Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: December 2011
CD No: LPO – 0058
Duration: 55 minutes
These recordings made by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Southbank Centre are brought together in a most attractive package displaying Vladimir Jurowski’s affinity for the music of Arthur Honegger. In an equally passionate advocacy of the composer Stephen Johnson makes the point in his booklet note that Honegger maintains a respectful distance from the music of “Les Six”, of whom he was a member.
Indeed Pastorale d’été could hardly be further removed from the group’s often exuberant, avant-garde tendencies. It begins this disc in warm-hearted fashion, and though the central section is quicker its charms remain easily accessible, thanks to a number of attractive solos from the LPO wind principals. It is a pity the horn player is not credited, for the melodic line rises above the heat haze with a graceful trajectory.
The Fourth Symphony, celebrating the delights of the city where Honegger spent some time during the Second World War, is poised and elegant, though never forgets its immediate history. Indeed, the uncertainty of the world in 1946 is palpable through the ominous tread of bass strings at the end of the Larghetto, while the attractive melodies, though glistening in the sunlight, convey a touching vulnerability. Again the winds of the London Philharmonic are superb, matched by the violins who find the delicate contours with ease, Jurowski finely crafting the detail that makes this symphony sound so attractive. The murmuring clarinets and darker bassoon at 3’00” in the first movement are testament to this, leading on to the striking unison melody that finds piano and celesta shining brightly at the edge of the texture. The march representing the culmination of the finale is brief, all too easily reverting to delicate woodwind flourishes, Jurowski acutely aware of the lack of extrovert gestures in the work. The only distraction from the quiet end is the applause that follows – odd when the other two recordings here are without any trace of the live environment.
Une Cantate de Noël is also ideally paced, with a strong sense of passing from darkness to light. ‘De profundis clamavi’ begins in the depths before moving to a climax of discords, relatively convincing but never shaking off its deliberate tread. This feeling gradually dissipates when the bright timbres of the children’s choir bring relief through the quodlibet of carols. Christopher Maltman offers a baleful solo to begin this section, which becomes more forceful as the swirling harmonies threaten to break out into consonance. When they do the effect is thrilling as a blast of late-evening sunlight, which sinks gradually to the horizon as the organ is left alone and fades gradually, its registrations nicely shaded.
This is an extremely enjoyable release which successfully pins down this elusive composer to make an ideal Honegger ‘starter disc’ – and there is much more of this composer to discover!