Arthur Honegger (1892-1955)

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin

“The defendant is a national heroine: in Arthur Honegger’s oratorio Joan of Arc at the Stake, Joan of Orleans looks back on her life during a show trial. The work is a moving drama and at the same time a parable on corruption and abuse of power. Honegger combines different musical styles here, from the Baroque chorale to a jazzy music hall sound. Alan Gilbert conducts, the speaking role of Joan of Arc is performed by actress and Oscar winner Marion Cotillard.” (DCH)

Honegger’s music has fallen by the wayside of late – yet it deserves a far better fate – attracting in days of yore such conductors as Ansermet, Baudo, Mariss Jansons, Markevitch, Martinon, Mravinsky, Munch, Ormandy, Plasson, et al, and, in this Berlin context, Karajan, who recorded Symphonies Two and Three for DG. Current Honegger champions include Herbert Blomstedt and Vladimir Jurowski.

Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher (1935) is a distinctive and powerful score, atmospheric and vivid, setting Paul Claudel’s French text, and requiring a large orchestra (including two pianos, an ondes Martenot, and a trio of saxophones). Simply if pertinently staged, and very well acted and spoken (German and English subtitles provided), not least by Marion Cotillard (totally immersed in her role), and Alan Gilbert didn’t let the tension sag over seventy-five minutes, the range of musical styles all-belonging, for something compelling, poignant and transcending.

Marion Cotillard speaker (Jeanne d’Arc)

Eric Génovèse speaker (Brother Dominique)

Christian Gonon speaker

Elsa Benoit soprano (La Vierge)

Adèle Charvet mezzo-soprano (St Marguerite)

Anna Kissjudit contralto (St Catherine)

Valentyn Dytiuk tenor (Porcus, a voice, first herald, clerk)

Alex Rosen bass (a voice, second herald, a farmer)

Vocal Heroes children’s choir

MDR Rundfunkchor

Côme de Bellescize stage direction

Vony Sarfati head of production

Colombe Lauriot Prévost costumes, stage equipment

Thomas Costerg light design

Concert, December 12, 1984; more than ten years since the DG recording: