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Sacher, Switzerland, Echo - Honegger, Schoeck, Halffter

Sacher / Yang / Orch Of Lubeck
Release Date: 09/27/2011 
Label:  Musicaphon   Catalog #: 56931   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Cristobal HalffterOthmar SchoeckArthur Honegger
Performer:  Jun Mo Yang
Conductor:  Roman Brogli-Sacher
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lübeck Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HONEGGER Symphony No. 4. SCHOECK Nachall. HALFFTER Tiento del Primer Tono y Batalla Imperial Roman Brogli-Sacher, cond; Jun Mo Yang (bar); Lübeck PO MUSICAPHON M56931 (69:56) Live: Lübeck 12/19/2009

This remarkably beautiful concert CD seems to have adopted me. The event itself is a memorial tribute for Paul Sacher, who represented in Swiss musical life the kind of Read more universal benefactor American libraries found in Andrew Carnegie. And the orchestra, like Weimar’s, is one of Germany’s slightly off-the-beaten-path ensembles, excellent in every way, just fractionally slimmer than its better-known NDR Hamburg big brother an hour south.

The unexpected joy for me is to encounter the finest performance of Honegger’s “Delights of Basel” Symphony that I’ve ever heard. Honegger represents for French-influenced music a sort of middle way through the harmonic thickets of the 20th century, much as Hindemith does in the German tradition. There is a tendency to assume such music is rigorous, serious, and aggressively good for one, and from the grateful listener’s standpoint, harmonically tolerable. But stunningly warm and beautiful? Who would expect it? No previous recording suggests it. Even Ernest Ansermet doesn’t achieve the delicate loveliness evident everywhere here. Stravinsky lurks just below the surface in Honegger, and conductors love to play that up. But Roman Brogli-Sacher evokes nothing short of Apollon grace and subtlety in those harmonies. This is as polished as Fauré. Here is a conductor who understands light and shade and how to make Honegger move naturally.

The most beautiful music in the symphony slithers into existence three and a half minutes into the second movement. Imagine a toasty mountain day. You find yourself on a floral summer path, returning home on the most comfortable downhill slope imaginable. The weight of your legs seems to give your stride a cozy lope. And as you pass by, startled birds and butterflies take to the air from the bushes beside you, rising up like circular clouds of lawn shavings from a mower. Woodwind and string serenity like that is unforgettable. Conductors would do well to seek out the Pastorale side of Honegger.

Overall, the symphony appears to be a very pleasant sunlit walkabout, and indeed concludes with a simple central-square clock-towerish rendition of “In Basel on My Rhine,” followed by the quiet closing of a door and turning of a latch. One senses all of this happening in broad daylight, with streetcar bells and pedestrians and the foot-stamping of children. But I learn with amusement from the liner notes that the actual Basel Carnival being celebrated here starts officially at four o’clock in the morning. Says something about the Swiss!

I have reversed the order of the music on this CD for discussion, since I find the Honegger so exemplary, and since it is part of a recorded cycle, but Halffter’s Tiento is itself a remarkably enjoyable piece. It was composed in 1986 as a Sacher tribute and features a modern orchestral version of the “organ battles” that used to be undertaken as cathedral entertainments. The work starts out like a solemn memorial by Handel, quickly morphs into post-dodecaphonic atomic warfare, then finds its way harmonically back to Handel again. It works beautifully–astonishingly–without ugliness.

The second piece on the program is Othmar Schoeck’s gentle and Brahmsian song cycle Swan Song, which would be a tribute to the poet Nikolaus Lenau were it not for the final song, which sets a verse by Matthias Claudius. A translation from the German would have been useful here, but is not included. Even so, I am impressed by the tonal beauty and perfect German diction of Korean-born baritone Jun Mo Yang, and find myself drawn to the subtlety of the music and its pleasant elegiac quality. This song cycle deserves more exposure.

Sonically, this CD is recorded at a very low level. I have to boost it by eight decibels. But that said, it is beyond reproach, and the Lübeck Philharmonic’s playing is limpid and accurate. I normally resist celebratory concerts and memorial CDs, but this one leaps out of the bin to adopt you like a puppy. Good choice!

FANFARE: Steven Kruger
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Works on This Recording

1. Tiento del primer tono y batalla imperial by Cristobal Halffter
Conductor:  Roman Brogli-Sacher
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lübeck Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1986; Spain 
2. Nachhall, Op. 70 by Othmar Schoeck
Performer:  Jun Mo Yang (Baritone)
Conductor:  Roman Brogli-Sacher
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lübeck Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Switzerland 
3. Symphony no 4 "Deliciae basiliensis" by Arthur Honegger
Conductor:  Roman Brogli-Sacher
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lübeck Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1946; France 

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