After recently hearing Mravinsky's searing account of the Symphonie Liurgique (no 3) on the staggering 'Art of Mravinsky' set , I decided to find a more modern recording of this piece that felt a bit less like having knitting needles stuck in my ears.
Honegger's five symphonies span his musical career, from the early no 1 (1929/30) to his late number 5 (1950). They are rather uneven in quality. The best known is no 2, for strings and obligato trumpet, immortalised by a very fine performance from Karajan and the BPO, and the Liturgique, which quite a few conductors have tackled over the years. But I find the formative no 1 and lightweight no 4 (Delights of Basle) difficult to get to grips with; it seems that the much darker and despair-filled 2,3 and 5 contain by far his most gripping music! Something about the devil having the best tunes...?
The Lubeck Orchestra is not a top-end German band, of course, but - on the evidence of these two discs - it's a decent enough municipal grouping. Its playing is consistent, professional and idiomatic, if not spectacular. More than good enough.
And then we come to the sound. Being my first Musicaphon recording, I had no idea what to expect. To my delight, the sound is very good indeed - and very consistent over the recording period of 2007-2010. In fact, the sound puts some big-name labels to shame. It's very clean, detailed, transparent and natural, with excellent stage depth, focus and air. The acoustic of the Kongresshalle sounds simply gorgeous.
If you already like or wish to further explore Honegger's sound world, this set hits the spot. Of course, you could alternatively pick and choose from the five Musicaphon recordings which couple these symphonies individually with Richard Strauss works. But the current set is more economical, of course.