This is the greatest performance of any Honegger symphony on disc.
I am not normally a fan of Karajan and I wish that DGG had chosen the original LP picture of Honegger for its sleeve instead of yet another photo of the conductor.
However, the performance of Honegger's Liturgique symphony is in a class of its own and in particular the intensely moving birdsong that concludes the stormy symphony (Honegger's finest) has never been more movingly articulated than on this recording. The sound quality is excellent considering that the recording comes from the 1970s.
An essential part of any self-respecting Honegger collection and good value at mid-price.
This recording was much admired when it was first issued back in the early 1970's since when there have been a number of other recordings, not only just of these two symphonies, but also of the complete Honegger symphonies.
However, Karajan was very mush on top form with these two works and his Berlin orchestra follow him all the way with playing of great precision and commitment.
The second symphony is really a string symphony with a solo trumpet brought in fer just the last few bars. This seems extravagant so what was Honegger up to? There are conductors who consider that this 'solo' part must really stand out so the trumpet becomes very prominent. Within a string symphony this seems to be an unlikely solution so the other possibility must be considered. That is that the trumpet, although solo in the sense that there is just one rather than a pair, is intended to play the melody in unison with the violins to add a subtle change of texture rather than to dominate. This is the Karajan solution or so it seems on the disc and is not surprising given Karajan's love of blended sounds and textures generally. In answer to the reviewer who complains that, no matter how hard he listens he cannot hear the trumpet, I can assure him that I can hear it enter at 3' 56" and stop at 4' 41" in the last movement. Perhaps as a retired trumpet player I am particularly attuned to hearing such things but I did have to listen quite carefully!
No such problems with the third symphony with the whole orchestra encouraged to give a very full-blooded and dramatic performance with a strong forward drive. This is a virtuoso performance by a virtuoso orchestra on top form and it is no surprise that it has led the field for so long. At this point it is worth noting that this disc can be bought in two editions - 'the Originals' as here and the '20th Century Classics' and as commented on below.*
* I am much indebted for the following comment recently received:
"It's better to buy the older issue than this more recent 'Originals' remastering, which reinstates an editing fault in the finale of Symphony No. 3 (a whole bar accidentally included twice) which was present in both LP issues, but which the '20th Century Classics' issue had corrected."
For potential purchasers, not primarily interested in all the the Honegger symphonies, I would suggest that this outstanding coupling of two of the best of the series has long warranted its position of revered reference performance and deserves serious consideration.
Nevertheless, the 'originals' edition clearly has an editing problem as explained above so purchasers may prefer the '20th Century Classics' edition which can still be bought. Should the '20th Century Classics' edition eventually become unavailable it is arguable that Karajan and the BPO performance will still be considered the best even with the editing problem. The recording of either edition is a good example of 1970's recording quality and should not cause distress on that score.
on 19 June 2016
The dictionary is littered with anachronisms. The most archaic of them all is ‘Christendom’. Arguably it was the most paradoxical of dynamics and especially so since 1914 when Europe opened its veins and then lost its nerve in the years that followed. Words such as “Germany”, “Holland” and “England” might join it in the decades ahead as demographics change their DNA forever in a second Adrianople. The marginalisation of high culture was already afoot. Compound it with an ideology that is antagonistic to music and one wonders whether Honegger has any sort of claim on the polity of the future.
Here - for the moment at least - we have two of his profoundest utterances: the Second Symphony (grounded on the spirituality of Johann Sebastian Bach) and its successor, the "Symphonie Liturgique” which is indebted to the Requiem as a template. Both of them are a lament for the Europe of yesteryear even as they solicit grace and communion in the afterglow and rubble.
This is one of Karajan’s greatest records. It’s actually wrong to label it as such. This is an update of the Book of Lamentations and the Prophet Isaiah. Not even his Bruckner can match this endeavour for its reach and visionary power. Nothing redeems the atrocities of the past or the follies of the present where one cannot attend a football match without fear. But here a meta-narrative becomes apparent that’s something more than an aesthetic experience. As the final bars of “Dona Nobis Pacem” are attained, one is enveloped in acceptance and expectancy. Observe the strings of the Berlin Philharmonic at 0’54ff in “De Profundis”: they’re more cherubic than any angel. We have not come this far for nothing.
In comparison, Stravinksy’s Concerto in D is inconsequential in the scheme of things. It’s a filler in every sense.
The day is coming when not only will it be near-impossible to understand this music – it might be banned as being inimitable to the Faith. In readiness, stock up!