Andre Cluytens conducts DEBUSSY: The Prodigal Son; HONEGGER: Sym. No. 3 (Arts Archives)

by | Jun 2, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

DEBUSSY: L’Enfant Prodigue; HONEGGER: Symphony No. 3, “Liturgique”

Jeanne Micheau, soprano/Michel Senechal, tenor/Pierre Mollet,
baritone/Andre Cluytens conducts Chorus and Orchestra of RAI Symphony,
Arts Archives 43059-2  62:52  (Distrib. Albany)****:

Ever since I first heard Sir Thomas Beecham perform the Cortege et Air
de Danse from Debussy’s youthful cantata The Prodigal Son (1884), I
have been curious to hear the entire work. Now, unearthed from RAI
archives comes this splendid rendition by French conductor Andre
Cluytens (1905-1967) from 4 May 1962, important to collectors for
obvious, musical reasons, including the fact that Cluytens never made a
commercial inscription of this piece, nor of the complementary Honegger
Liturgical Symphony, taped a week earlier on 30 April 1962.

Debussy composed The Prodigal Son as an entry to the Prix de Rome
competition, which he won. Stylistically resembling the music of
Massenet, Debussy later regarded it as “academic and boring,” but its
melodic invention and gift for ensemble caught the ear of Charles
Gounod, who foresaw later fruits. We hear the Biblical tale of The
Prodigal Son recounted through a series of arias, interludes, and
ensemble pieces, where the vocal parts include Azael, our protagonist,
and his parents Simeon and Lia. Jeanne Micheau, more celebrated for her
Puccini and Stravinsky interpretations for the Paris Opera-Comique than
for this role, is in excellent voice, and her Air de Lia is a plaintive
elegy of a mother’s love for a lost child who has also abandoned the
usual joys of life. True, the transitions between movements are
relatively static, and the formulaic return and hymn to a benevolent
God mannered and theatrical, but the composer’s innate capacities for
color and modal harmony shines through, especially in the sonically
resplendent Arts Archive recording. If Cluytens came to Debussy’s music
via Inghelbrecht, he knew Honegger personally, and his incandescent
reading of the Third Symphony really pushes the Italian Radio Orchestra
to surpass themselves. A lament for the horrors of war, the music moves
to a blissful coda, a vision of what life could embrace if humanity’s
softer instincts could prevail.

–Gary Lemco

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