Honegger: Symphony No. 3 (CD review)

Also, Pacific 231, Mouvement symphonique, Pastorale de’ete, Rugby. Takuo Yuasa, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.555974.

Because most other record companies produce maybe one or two discs a month, it isn’t hard to decide which one or ones to review. But because the folks at Naxos usually produce up to a dozen new discs a month, it’s a little more problematical which ones to request for review. Sometimes, they’re mediocre. Sometimes one lucks out and finds a gem. This one is a gem.

Performances and sound are top-notch for this recital of Honegger orchestral music, every bit the equal of David Zinman’s fine Decca recording of some years back and at up to half the price. It’s a bargain that’s hard to resist, especially if you’ve always wanted a topflight Pacific 231, possibly Honegger’s most-famous work, but haven’t cared to pay full price for the accompanying things on a full-price disc.

Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), like other composers I’ve mentioned before, was one of those modernists of the first half of the twentieth century who nonetheless clung to the last vestiges of Romanticism. We get visions in his work of emotional power, impressionism, and tuneful melodies aplenty. It’s a felicitous arrangement.

The album begins with his Symphony No 3, subtitled “Liturgique.” From 1945, it is no celebration of Allied victory in World War II but a liturgical lament for the souls lost in the War and the devastation the War incurred, ending in a prayer for future peace. It is quite a powerful and moving composition that deserves wider recognition, and Maestro TakuoYuasa plays it in such a way as to convey its varying moods significantly.

The four short tone pictures, Pacific 231, Rugby, Mouvement symphonique, and Pastorale de’ete, Yuasa plays just as well and express their visual images well, too, even if Honegger said he wasn’t trying explicitly to create any specific pictures.

The sound is nothing short of terrific. It’s one of Naxos’s best efforts, with not only a wide stereo spread, wide frequency response, and wide dynamics, but with one of the best recreations of orchestral depth I’ve heard on any of Naxos’s releases (or anyone else’s). While I noted a touch of congestion in the loudest passages, the sound is very impressive for the relatively few bucks invested.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa