At first glance the pairing of these two works – one choral and one symphonic – may seem appropriate only because of the two French-speaking composers. Closer examination reveals other considerations in the clever matching up. Both composers were members of “Les Six,” and both works could be described as religious in nature.
After that the differences come more to the fore. Poulenc was Catholic, but not strongly, and his Gloria is a joyous and optimistic work of generally lighthearted character, whereas Honegger came from a dour Calvinist Protestant background and shows his extremely pessimistic nature in his Third Symphony. Vivaldi’s Gloria set the structural goal for Poulenc; he copied not only its six short movements but also its sunny demeanor. The striking modern melodies and harmonies often show touches of the music hall and cabaret, as does much of Poulenc’s music, but they fit the Latin just fine and are surpassingly beautiful. The live performance of the choral/orchestral work benefits from an air of excitement often missing from studio recordings.
Honegger’s later works often had an historical or religious slant. The Liturgical Symphony makes clear references to ecclesiastical ritual. The three movements’ tempo designations are prefaced by: 1) Dies Irae; 2) De profundis clamavi; 3) Dona nobis pacem. The opening measures of the symphony are a clear reference to the third movement of Debussy’s La Mer, with the musical sound of a giant wave crashing. Honegger explores “The Day of Wrath” with widely-spaced chromatic themes. The adagio second movement – the longest and most important section – is subtitled “the sorrowful meditation of Mankind abandoned by God.” Though this was the composer’s first work written after the liberation of Paris, Honegger didn’t seem to share the joy of most of his compatriots.
The live concerts for the two works occurred in 2004 and 2005. The 5.0 mix of the multichannel SACD option is clear and extremely detailed, with a fine feeling of the Concertgebouw hall.
– John Sunier