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.
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: