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Briefly Noted: Denève Champions Honegger

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A. Honegger, Symphonies 2 and 3 (inter alia), Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, S. Denève

(released on October 9, 2015)
SWR Klassik CD93.343 | 70'19"
Stéphane Denève took the position of music director at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra a decade ago, after troubles he experienced with French ensembles. A few years later he moved to the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, with whom he recorded a series of discs devoted to later French composers, on that ensemble's private label. The last of those recordings takes up two symphonies by Arthur Honegger, as well as two shorter orchestral pieces by the same composer. I had hoped that Denève might be on someone's list to consider as a successor to Christoph Eschenbach at the National Symphony Orchestra, but Denève's work with the NSO has not been universally praised. In any case, he has just opened his first season with the Brussels Philharmonic last month, where he is now chief conductor.

Honegger's music is heard with shameful infrequency in these parts. This single disc, in Denève's capable hands, offers a summary of why this is unfortunate. The third symphony, known as "Symphonie Liturgique," is a smoldering commemoration of the horrors of World War II. The slow movement ("De profundis clamavi") is especially beautiful, representing a more tonal strand of 20th-century music that now seems more relevant than ever. The second symphony, for intensely scored string orchestra, grows in its anguished statement until a trumpet rises heroically out of the strife, played here by Thomas Hannes. As lagniappe, Denève offers two more familiar single movements: the agitated Rugby (Mouvement Symphonique No. 2), with the Stuttgart RSO's blazing brass, and the famous Pacific 231.

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