Honegger: Pacific 231 (CD review)

Also, Symphony No. 2; Mouvement Symphonique Nos. 2 and 3; et al. David Zinman, Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich. Decca 455 352-2.

This disc brings together some of the best-known orchestral works of Swiss composer Arthur Honegger (1892–1955), and conductor David Zinman and the Decca Record Company provide them with some of the best interpretations and best sound the music has ever enjoyed. Honegger 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 both of emotional power and impressionism.

His three famous Mouvements symphonique are here, with its most-popular movement, "Pacific 231." Honegger openly admitted to naming it after a particular type of locomotive, yet he denied it was a point-for-point musical rendering of the big engine, insisting instead that it was "...the impression of a mathematical acceleration of rhythm, while the movement itself slowed." Be that as it may, it has since taken on a life of its own as a highly programmatic tone poem. Zinman gets it going enthusiastically.

David Zinman
The Second Mouvement symphonique is subtitled "Rugby" and provides an image of the cadences and colors of a rugby match. The Third Mouvement symphonique has no subtitle at all and, consequently, said Honegger, was overlooked by the public and critics. Apparently, people tend to pay more attention to works with colorful or descriptive titles ("Eroica," "Military," "Surprise," "Jupiter," "Resurrection") than those without. Whatever, Zinman again gives the music plenty of life and color.

In addition to the Mouvements, there are Honegger's ambitious Symphony No. 2, his Monopartia, and his lovely and atmospheric little Pastorale d'ete. As always, Zinman approaches them with respectful energy, much in the way he approached his performances of the Beethoven symphonies on Arte Nova a few years earlier.

Decca's sound, recorded in 1996 at Zurich's Tonhalle, Switzerland is a tad bright, hard, and edgy at the top end, but it's hardly anything to complain about and is otherwise nicely detailed, with a realistic sense of bloom and dimension. It's no doubt the best sound I've found in Honegger, even though I haven't heard everything. I'm sure listeners will not be displeased by what they hear.

In all, it's a fine Honegger recording, challenging those by Karajan, Dutoit, Ansermet, and others.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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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