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Honegger - Une Cantate de Noël
Honegger’s Une Cantate de Noël is a Christmas number with a difference. His last work and one of his most popular compositions, it was written for the Basle Chamber Choir and Orchestra in 1953. The text of the cantata is derived from liturgical and popular texts— including Psalms and part of the Latin Gloria. A notable feature is the intertwining of traditional carols in French and German: appropriate for multilingual Switzerland and also perhaps symbolizing peace among nations seven years after the conclusion of World War II. Honegger scored the cantata for solo baritone, mixed chorus, children’s choir and an orchestra including organ. The combination of the different texts and forms creates a wonderfully uplifting effect.
This recording from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Thierry Fischer also includes a selection of Honegger’s other great orchestral works, all displaying the serious symphonic intent which marked his greatest compositional achievements. Horace victorieux is described as a Symphonie mimée d’apres Tite-Live (‘mimed symphony after Livy’) and was originally conceived as a ballet. The scenario derives from the Roman legend of the combat of the Horatii and the Curiatii. Scored for a large orchestra, it is flamboyant, dissonant, even raucous, and highly coloured. Honegger’s mastery of fugue, so prevalent in Horace victorieux, is further illustrated in his Prélude, Fugue et Postlude.
Honegger’s Cello Concerto was premiered in Boston in 1930 and is a charming, urbanely lyrical work, with a distinct tinge of jazz—perhaps actuated by the thought of the American premiere. It was written for the celebrated cellist Maurice Maréchal, who wrote the cadenza himself. In the event, Maréchal provided a brilliantly effective display-piece taking advantage of many of the outrageous aspects of virtuoso cello technique (notably majestic triple- and quadruplestopping). The brilliant young cellist Alban Gerhardt, celebrated for his performances of little-known cello concertos in Hyperion’s Romantic Cello Concerto series, is the soloist.
“…an excellent introduction to a still underestimated composer. Thierry Fischer's vivid account of the Prélude, Fugue et Postlude makes one all the more astonished that this is the only recording available of this powerful piece. In the Concerto, Alban Gerhardt ranged from the seductive to the sensational... in the Cantate de Noël... the music grows and grows over the implacable tread of the bass, until the tension is broken by bright children's voices singing 'Joie et paix sur toi, Israel' - truly inspired moment...” BBC Music Magazine, December 2008 *****
“The works collected here cover the full range of Honegger's mature career, from the volatile 'mimed symphony' Horace victorieux, his first major orchestral utterance (1920-21), to his final completed work, Une cantate de Noël (1952-53).
In expressive range, the music alternates from Yuletide light and shade to the Stravinskian high jinks of the Cello Concerto's finale (1929), to the high drama of Horace victorieux, not otherwise available.
Horace victorieux was the first real indication of Honegger's natural genius for large-scale orchestral composition. Based on Livy's bloodthirsty tale of Publius Horatius, the score combines vigorous, martial allegros depicting the combat and evocative lyrical episodes for the uneasy love of Horatius's sister for his enemy, Curiatius.
Heard in abstract, it proves a compelling symphonic poem of elemental power. There is a hint of the same quality in the less intense Prelude,Fugue and Postlude Honegger extracted in 1948 from his 1929 score for Amphion, although its atmosphere – based on Greek myth – is quite peaceable. There is a real touch of Christmas to the Cantata, one of Honegger's most popular works despite its gloomy, tonally ambiguous opening quarter. It is excellently sung.
Fischer directs controlled but expressive accounts of all four works which would grace any collector's shelves. Gerhardt is excellent in the Concerto, although its delicate, plaintive opening is eclipsed by proximity to Horace's close. Hyperion's superb recording has much to commend it, dealing superbly with some huge dynamic ranges.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Fischer directs controlled but expressive accounts of all four works which would grace any collector's shelves. Gerhardt is excellent in the Concerto…” Gramophone Magazine, January 2009
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Honegger: Pastorale d’été, Symphony No. 4 & Une Cantate de Noël
Recorded live at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, London, on 28 March 2007 (Pastorale d’été and Symphony No. 4) and 5 December 2009 (Une Cantate de Noël).
Today the Swiss-born composer Arthur Honegger is often remembered as a member of ‘Les Six’ – that embodiment of 1920s Parisian modernism. But far from rejecting late Romantic expression, Honegger embraced it. In these live concert recordings, Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra in three of Honegger’s most lyrical works: the dreamy Pastorale d’été, the nostalgic Fourth Symphony, subtitled ‘The Delights of Basel’ in remembrance of the sanctuary offered by the Swiss city during the war, and his final composition, the reflective and heartfelt Cantate de Noël.
‘Of course, anything conducted by Vladimir Jurowski is worth hearing. His galvanising effect on the band whose Principal Conductor he will shortly become was evident again here, notably in the beguiling, brushed-velvet textures he conjured in Honegger’s Pastoral d’été … and in an immaculate ensemble and textural clarity everywhere.’ Richard Morrison, The Times, March 2007
Vladimir Jurowski became the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s twelfth Principal Conductor in September 2007 and this CD is the latest in his ever-growing catalogue with the LPO on its own label, adding to his recent critically acclaimed recordings of Mahler Symphony No. 2, Brahms Symphonies 1 & 2 and Holst’s Planets.
“[The Fourth Symphony] is full of charm and tactile invention, vividly realised in this live recording. The polyglot, quite vigorous Christmas cantata embraces a carol sequence, Silent Night (in German) making a touching appearance halfway through the middle movement.” Sunday Times, 30th October 2011
“Pastorale d'Eté depicts a country landscape under shimmering heat. The problematic Fourth Symphony, swivelling inconsequentially between neoclassical austerity and tentative lyricism, was written in the aftermath of the second world war. The Cantata itself – Honegger's last work, composed when he was terminally ill – glances longingly and tenderly at ideas of new beginnings before gradually retreating towards its final” The Guardian, 10th November 2011 ***
“All three works on this unexpectedly satisfying CD communicate a joie de vivre without ever sounding lightweight. The jaunty Symphony No 4 is performed with the wit and subtlety it deserves, bringing out the song-like character of its three movements. Pastorale d’été is a dreamy orchestral summerscape, Une Cantate de Noël a radiant choral celebration of the human and the divine.” Financial Times, 18th November 2011 ****
“The other two Honegger works on this CD (“Pastorale d’été” and Symphony No 4) are an acquired taste, but Une Cantate de Noël is impressively voiced. The music moves from contemplative ritual to a cunningly crafted medley of Christmas melodies and an ending of quiet serenity.” The Telegraph, 9th December 2011
“Jurowski’s performance is airy and rhythmically sharp, and beautifully played...There’s a joyous moment near the close [of the Christmas Cantata] when the choral cries of ‘Amen’ melt into a tender orchestral postscript. It had me reaching for the Kleenex. Very good singing from the LPO Chorus and the New London Children’s Choir, and an excellent live RFH recording.” The Arts Desk, 10th December 2011
“What a strange conundrum the symphony is, but the LPO play it as though they mean every note.” Gramophone Magazine, February 2012
“a release especially recommended to those who have previously resisted Honegger, believing him to be an overly dry or dour figure. The music-making here avowedly proves otherwise.” International Record Review, January 2012
“Pleasing performances of some pleasing and unfamiliar music. Recommended to beachcombers (and anyone else who's curious).” Classic FM Magazine, March 2012 ****
“the whole disc is very well performed with a real sense of vitality as well as warmth and charm.” Chris O'Reilly, Presto Classical, 5th December 2011
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Honegger: Symphonies Nos. 2-4, Pacific 231, Le Roi David & Cantata de Noel
Symphony No. 2 in D for strings and trumpet
Symphony No. 3, H186 'Liturgique'
Symphony No. 4 'Deliciae Basilienses'
Movement symphonique No. 1 'Pacific 231'
Le Roi David
Suzanne Danco (soprano), Marie-Lise de Montmollin, Pauline Martin (mezzo-sopranos), Michel Hamer (tenor) & Stéphane Audel (narrator)
Chœur des Jeunes de l’Église National Vaudoise
Une cantate de Noël
Pierre Mollet (baritone)
Chœur des Jeunes, Lausanne, Chœur de Radio Lausanne, Le Petit Chœur du Collège de Villamont
In terra pax
Ursula Buckel (soprano), Marga Höffgen (contralto), Ernst Haefliger (tenor), Pierre Mollet (baritone) & Jakob Stämpfli (bass)
Union Chorale, Chœur des Dames de Lausanne, L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
The DECCA ANSERMET LEGACY has been systematically releasing the vast recorded legacy of Ernest Ansermet, a key Decca artist in the 1950s and 1960s. It has become one of the most sought-after and praised of all reissue series. The latest brings together Ansermet’s Honegger recordings, including the first international release on CD of the Symphony No. 3 ‘Liturgique’ and the 3CD set includes three Swiss works on biblical texts – Honegger’s Le Roi David (King David) and Une Cantate de Noël (Christmas Cantata), and Frank Martin’s In terra pax. Best known today for his tone poem Pacific 231 (of Ansermet’s two recordings of the piece, the second, in stereo, is featured here) and said to have been inspired by the massive physical energy of a railway engine, Honegger’s other music receives only rare outings in the concert hall. Although it has, in the last two decades, enjoyed greater representation on record, Ernest Ansermet was one of the composer’s pioneers and these recordings represent some of the most notable and widely available efforts. To mark the cessation of hostilities in 1945 around Europe, Radio Geneva in Switzerland commissioned a celebratory work from Frank Martin, the ‘oratorio breve’ In terra pax (Peace on Earth). Martin set the work joyfully, feeling that he was somehow, like Bach, in the privileged situation of an old master working for the church.
“This double CD set is almost worth its cost for the performance of Pacific 231 - one of the most vividly descriptive tone-poems of the twentieth century...Ansermet's is perhaps the finest ever committed to disc: it has a powerful, cumulative effect which is compelling from bar one...it is a magnificent recording of a magnificent performance of a magnificent piece.” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition
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