Honegger wrote more than just Pacific 2-3-1, and it was a sound editorial decision to leave that out of this generous selection of his work. Each of the two discs contains more than 70 minutes of his music, and the scope and variety in the choices disposed me favourably towards the set even before hearing a note. According to the information given in micro-print on the back of the box the works presented here are taken from three original issues. Le Roi David dates from 1973, and as performed here it is especially interesting in giving us the bare-bones instrumentation (no strings except basses and piano instead of harp) that was all that the playwright/producer Rene Morax allowed the composer in the first instance. The second disc contains an orchestral collection, mainly from 1992 with the Monte Carlo Orchestra under Marius Constant, but giving us Dutoit again directing the Bavarian players in the final offerings - the Pastorale d'Ete and the Mouvement Symphonique, both from 1986.
The recorded quality strikes me as very good throughout, although unsurprisingly best in the most recent sessions. Another thing that pleased me in a very slightly offbeat way was that the orchestral pieces make a very neat and exact fit into their disc: my Sony player moves on to the next item on my carousel simultaneously with the very last note and on the 42nd second of the 9th minute of the Mouvement Symphonique, that being the precise playing time. I have not yet got the knack(supposing the thing is possible at all) of stopping the disc at this point if I want to replay it, but I like the sense of getting value for my money, which is a genuine bargain even without such a `bonus'.
I don't feel like looking for things to criticise in the performances, not that I would be liable to find much if I did. If this were, say, Brahms or some other standard classic of whose works recordings grow on trees I would doubtless take another approach. This is a different case, a composer largely neglected nowadays and deserving better. He is very well served here by the musicians, including the chorus and including the boy treble as the boy David. There are two spoken parts as well, one being the Witch of Endor. As long as I put Handel's wonderful sung Witch with her bassoons in conflicting rhythms out of my mind I was fine by the way the part is done here. The main narrative recitation is very in-yer-face, and that seems to be the French tradition of doing this kind of thing, to judge by a much older account that I own of Debussy's Martyre de St Sebastien. I have simply decided not to worry unduly what I think about this, but I should presumably let prospective purchasers know what to expect.
The liner notes are better than many, except that the text of Le Roi David is for some reason not provided. What we are offered instead is an earnest but faintly futile set of notes, one per track, telling us not even what the action is for the most part but how the music does this that or the next, which is something I can hear for myself. Typical French clarity in the singing helps, but one is used to getting it all served up on a tray these days without any effort being asked of us. On the other hand something that I welcome thoroughly is the division of the first disc into a large number of short tracks, making it easy to hear some passage again without having to sit through what we don't want to listen to. The liner notes are the work of separate authors for the two discs, and the translation reads easily enough, making allowance for the lingo of this kind of thing, which would be much the same in original English texts. One thing that will stop any attentive readers in their tracks comes at the start of the second part of King David. Here we are informed that the Temple of Joy is approached through a `luminous narthex', and it's the same word in the French. Well, what's one of them -- a narthex? I can tell you: it's the Greek for a fennel stalk, such as Prometheus used to bring the stolen fire from the gods to mankind. That's as much as I can tell you, because the point of the metaphor escapes me. Currently the lighted Olympic torch is being carried through this kingdom in relays to lead up to the Olympic Games being staged in London in this particular year. That's what the image reminds me of, but there is presumably no possible link. I can leave the matter unresolved and simply reiterate what everything said above surely makes clear, namely that I think this an excellent issue.