, November 2008
Honegger was one of the most resourceful and successful of film composers and his scores seldom disappoint; these ones never do.
We start with the first suite of Regain, a film made in 1937 by Marcel Pagnol on a Provençal theme. The striving and hardship of the landscape are strongly evoked and though there’s a rather deceptively ‘English’ march tune in there the inflexions are otherwise Honegger’s own. Brass writing emphasises the rawness of landscape, of terrain, of the daily grind, and the saxophone in the second cut, Hiver, facilitates subtle and evocative tone painting. But it’s not all grim—the whistling insouciance of Gedemus le remouleur proves a minute’s worth of scherzo high spirits along with some imaginative and unabashed instrumentation – rattles prominently.
Crime et Châtiment—Crime and Punishment to give it its English title—provides opportunities for a character study, not least of Raskolnikov the murderer. Honegger abjures the lurid though, preferring a far more subtle schema altogether. The wistful and lyrical answering themes of Raskolnikov and the prostitute Sonia suggest directions that are soon to be thwarted. The longest track is devoted to the murder. Powerful and dramatic it sports a throbbing, pulsing theme, a musical migraine of the most disabling kind. The killing itself is represented by a brief slashing figure—pre Bernard Herrmann—whilst the terse figures of the final cut, the Visite nocturne with bass clarinet and piano, leads to a rather Russian-Semitic tune.
The two symphonic movements from Le Démon de l’Himalaya are fascinatingly orchestrated; no horns but two saxophones and the Ondes Martenots, harp, percussion and wordless chorus. The first movement is a terse sustained ostinato, gust swirling build ups of great tensile intensity finally dissipated through the most unusual orchestration. The second movement is a solemn Passacaglia—and there are hints of Milhaud and Weill. Things get decidedly spooky before the chorus, before the uplift that it brings and the resolution that is afforded. Altogether fascinating evidence of Honegger’s forward thinking imagination and ear for colour.
L’Idée again features the Ondes Martenots and perky piano figures. It’s a lighter, droller score than its companions. There’s some saturnine sounding Weill influence once more though with less canine bite; some of the piano and brass writing sounds similar to the kinds of thing Martinů and Milhaud were writing at around the same time. The big powerful march theme is exciting on its own merits however.
It’s an engaging way to end a thoroughly researched, intelligently annotated and very well performed disc.