HONEGGER: Symphonies Nos. 2 & No. 4 “Deliciae Basiliensis” Sinfonieorchester Basel/ Dennis Russell Davies – Sinfonieorchester Basel [Dist. by Naxos] (4/29/14) ****:

Swiss-born composer Arthur Honegger left behind an impressive body of work, most famous perhaps is Pacific 231, impressions of a steam locomotive.

Honegger wrote five symphonies, two of which are represented on this new recording by the Basel Symphony with Dennis Russell Davies conducting.

The Symphony No. 2 for Strings and Trumpet in D was commissioned in 1937 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Basel Chamber Orchestra, so this recording is a further and appropriate celebration of the composition.

The work is tragic in nature, but triumphant in the last movement when the solo trumpet appears. Honegger referred to the third movement as “like pulling out an organ stop.”

The recording is excellent, with delicate and detailed strong sound, and a very clean 3rd movement finale where the instrumentation becomes more dense and dynamic. It would be hard to imagine a better CD recording.

The Symphony No. 4 is a work for full orchestra, written in 1946 and again the work stemmed from a commission for the Basel Orchestra. The Symphony quotes from two Swiss folk songs, and commemorates Honegger’s joy after the end of World War II. It’s a three-movement work that ends on a reflective and somewhat somber ambiance. It had been previously recorded with the Basel group in 2005 with Christopher Hogwood.

Again, the recording here is excellent. Everything sounds natural, with a pleasing balance between instrument definition and the sound of the recording venue.

Somehow I had missed the Honegger symphonies in my listening resume, and I am glad to let this CD fill in the gaps. This is excellent music, very well played. Recommended!

—Mel Martin