S&H Concert Review

Honegger: Symphony No. 3, 'Liturgique' Fauré: Requiem Dorothea Röschmann, soprano Simon Keenleyside, baritone London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra Antonio Pappano, conductor  Barbican Hall, Sunday 8 October

Known primarily for his work as an opera conductor, notably his work at La Monnaie in Brussels, and due to take up the reigns at Covent Garden in 2002, Antonio Pappano has had little profile so far in UK concert halls, so this short run of concerts with the LSO was of value in demonstrating his sympathies over a wide range of music.

Certainly only a conductor with deeper knowledge of the repertoire would revive Honegger's Third Symphony; among the most played modern symphonies in the decade after its first performance in 1946, but seldom heard today. The subtitle, 'Liturgique', refers both to the Requiem-derivation of its movements and, more importantly, the spiritual dimension central to the work's thinking. Like the almost contemporary Sixth Symphony of Prokofiev, this is music that focuses on the aftermath of war and the human will needed, against the odds, to create a culture of purpose and meaning.

The opening 'Dies irae' spills over with aggression and a sense of helplessness, as the composer saw it, "in the face of divine anger". 'De profundis clamavi' moves away from graphic violence to hope of salvation, though as the central cris de coeur makes plain, that hope is a tenuous one. 'Dona nobis pacem' looks to an unnerving but all too realizable future of social regimentation and conformity, through an implaccable march sequence of mounting terror. The culminating dischord - an atomic flash? the universal scream? - fades into an epilogue of utter calm; poised between transcendence and resignation, and leaving a question that the composer, increasingly pessimistic, would answer unequivocally in his tragic Fifth Symphony some five years later.

Pappano would have realized that the LSO is an orchestra superbly equipped to meet the music's emphasis on purposeful virtuosity. The dynamic range was wide, as it needed to be, while Honegger's sombre but gorgeously enveloping harmonic language was precisely brought out. If the march of the finale lacked the last degree of impact, this was due to Pappano's approach of Shostakovich-like irony, limiting the music's irresistible urge towards self-destruction. Yet the climax itself was suitable overpowering, and the closing pages movingly rendered, This is music with a strong sense of the difference between good and evil: something that the generally attentive audience appreciated and responded to.

Fauré's Requiem threatened an anti-climactic second half, but Pappano brought out a gravity and depth liable to be skated over in this most personable and intimate of settings; a work easy to criticize in the present era of existential angst and unrealistic expectation. The often provisional sense to the work, assembled from various sources and consolidated over more than a decade, was minimal here, thanks to a skilful gauging of tempo across the seven short movements, with the 'Introit and Kyrie' and the 'Agnus Dei' rightly emerging as the thematic and emotional pillars. Simon Keenlyside was in superb and unaffected voice in the 'Hostias' and 'Libera me', while Dorothea Röschmann, placed at the extreme right of the platform, sounded a radiant note in the 'Pie Jesu'. Pappano flowing momentum proved ideal in the 'Sanctus' and closing 'In paradisum', whose chaste simplicity can easily become cloying. The reduced LSO and chorus were fully attuned to Fauré's understated vision.

An unexpectedly appropriate coupling then, giving notice of Pappano's condiderable rapport with the orchestra. Further visits, and further Honegger, would be most welcome.

Richard Whitehouse

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