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Pungent Sonorities

Arthur Honegger's
'Le Roi David' -
reviewed by

'... handled with great vitality.'

Honegger: Le Roi David; Prélude, fugue et postlude; Monopartita. © 2005 Warner Classics

Anyone coming to Honegger for the first time could do a lot worse than investigate this double CD, which includes his first large-scale masterpiece and a selection of shorter orchestral works mostly from later in his career.

The 'symphonic psalm' King David began life in 1921 as incidental music for a play by the Swiss dramatist René Morax. Two years later he and Honegger produced a concert version, replacing the spoken dialogue with a narration for a single speaker. This, in itself, exists in two versions: the one recorded here, which retains the original scoring for an ensemble of seventeen players, and one for a full-sized orchestra.

The main problem facing performers concerns holding together the kaleidoscopic succession of short, differently-scored movements, many of them lasting less than three minutes. Dutoit succeeds in pointing up the individuality of the separate numbers while forging the whole into a compelling dramatic experience. The unnamed instrumental ensemble plays with lyricism, sharp rhythms and pungent sonorities as required. Among the fine team of vocal soloists, Eric Tappy is ardent and expressive in the role of David, with Bernard Petel conveying a touching vulnerability as David the shepherd-boy. The Chorale Philippe Caillard handles Honegger's sometimes awkward choral writing with total confidence. As the Witch of Endor, Simone Valère's incantation is properly theatrical without becoming hammy, while Jean Desailly's narration is rhetorical but not overbearing. The vivid sense of theatre that comes across in David's dance before the Ark, which ends Part 2, is typical of the whole performance [listen -- CD1 track 16, 4:24-5:56].

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Copyright © 9 September 2006 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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