1920, 1924, 1928, 1933, 1946, 2004, Music

HONEGGER: Symphony No. 3, ‘Liturgique’ / Pacific 231 / Rugby et al. by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Takuo Yuasa

This is a collection of some of Honegger’s works, pairing his three most famous pieces – the “symphonic movements” with one of his symphonies and a symphonic poem.

The third symphony begins with a loud, fast movement that has been aptly described as “stormy.” It’s the kind of thing that makes me think maybe I was wrong to not invest more time in Honegger. Sure, it’s rather traditional for the era, but it’s the kind of thing I like. The second movement is considerably softer, more lyrical, though not exactly as somber as I might have expected (though it gets considerably more somber as it gets louder). The third movement is again rather ominous, but it ends with a hopeful note. The whole thing does manage to conjure a feeling of the world at war, so I guess it does what it sets out to do. It’s still pretty much late Romantic stuff written half a century too late (ish), but I can’t help but like it.

“Rugby” (the second “symphonic movement”) is a vibrant piece of a music that flirts (just a little) with some more avant garde ideas, while remaining firmly in territory that’s safe and secure. It’s good stuff but it’s not especially illuminating.

The third unnamed, “symphonic movement” is as vibrant as the other two but is considerably less daring, given its era. That being said, I almost like it the most of all three, though. There’s something about it that appeals to me.

“Pacific 231” (the first symphonic movement) is justly famous due to its ability to conjure images of a train. It is certainly among the more notable short orchestral works of its era, if only because it is so distinctive and so effective at doing what it sets out to do.

The “Pastorale d’ete” kind of feels out of place with all this vigorous music, and is the one thing that makes this collection feel arbitrary. (Everything else is bombastic, vigorous, and so forth.) However, the piece is quite pretty and shows off a completely different side to Honegger than I was familiar with. It’s definitely in the shaw of Debussy and appears to be something that predates Honegger’s more “mature” (but arguably far less restrained) style.

On the whole, this is a very solid collection of mostly like-sounding music. It’s the last piece that throws one for a loop, but it’s still a good introduction to Honegger and one that makes me think I need to do more digging.


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