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5.0 out of 5 stars Une Cantate De Noel., 9 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Honegger: Pastorale D'Ete/ Symphony No. 4/ Une Cantate De Noel (Lpo: LPO-0058) (Audio CD)
Having actually sung this work several years ago ,i have wanted a copy for some time,and this recording has met my expectations pretty closely.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jurowski makes a case for remembering Honegger, 8 Nov 2011
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This review is from: Honegger: Pastorale D'Ete/ Symphony No. 4/ Une Cantate De Noel (Lpo: LPO-0058) (Audio CD)
This CD suggests an attempt at rehabilitation. Although Swiss by parentage, Honegger was born in France and holds his place there as a member of Les Six, while elsewhere he is mostly forgotten. His two dramatic oratorios, King Davd and Joan of Arc at the Stake, still had currency when I was young; they manage to be religious, popsy, and lurid all at once. Two fellow members of Les Six, Poulenc and Milhaud, Honegger's modernism wasn't shy of popular culture, and the last toehold he has in the standard repertoire is probably Pacific 231, which depicts a modern locomotive; Honegger had another tone poem dedicated to rugby.

To bring him closer to English tastes, Vladimir Jurowski has cannily chosen diffuse, easy-listen pastoral music that will remind English audiences of familiar sounds from Delius and that ilk. French modernism tended toward the breezy as well, another kind of easy-listen sound to be found in the nostalgic Sym. #4. Unless you were a real Honegger devotee, it would be hard not to believe that these works aren't generically like Roussel, Ibert, or Jolivet. So it's surprising to go to the London Phil's website and listen to a clip of Jurowski placing Honegger on much the same level as Stravinsky; his defense is eloquent but seems misplaced to me.

The postwar era and the threat of the Bomb turned the composer somber, and in addition he knew he was dying when he composed the grave, soul-searching Cantate de Noel in 1953, surely the most cheerless Christmas music I can imagine (it begins in the bowels of the orchestra with a De prfundis). We aren't gamboling in pastures here; the composer draws out some searing, harmonically jagged passages of souls pleading for release from suffering. The work calls for large forces, including an organ and children's chorus as well as a mixed chorus and baritone soloist. The three-part structure heads from darkness toward the light, ending with a Laudate Dominum (in that regard it resembles Stravinsky's Sym. of Psalms, also in three parts, that ends in a Laudate Dominum). Christmas carols do enter the musical texture, which for me makes for a queasy mixture of the sentimental and the agonized. But then, I have much the same reaction to Honegger's religious oratorios.

Jurowski clearly believes in this music and delivers it very well, as do all the forces, orchestral and choral, that are involved. The sound is excellent and captures the spatial placement of various voices. We don't get many new Honegger releases to add to classic ones from Markevitch, Bernstein, and Karajan, among others who championed his work. Jurowski joins the catalog at the top level.
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