Sunday, April 17, 2016
Pacific 231 (Arthur Honegger)--Continental Symphony Orch., cond. by Piero Coppola, 1927.
I recently bought this 78 from eBay, and I was astonished to find it in such fine shape--I wonder if this copy had ever been touched by a needle before I placed my Stanton stylus on it. A 1927 Classical 78 requiring no noise filtering, extensive or otherwise? Had to encounter such a thing to believe it.
That reminds me--I need to leave rave feedback for this.
If you're not familiar with Arthur Honegger's 1923 Pacific 231, you will be after you listen to this. (Cha-dunk, crash!) Now, this superb 1927 performance is either the premier recording of the work, or the second one. Most sources tell me it's the first, but I just found a Gramophone review which reports the existence of a "late acoustic" French recording made by the composer in France with the Pasdeloup Orchestra. So, I don't know.
Even if you weren't aware that Pacific 231 refers to a train, you'd know after about half a minute--though, oddly enough, the train title was an afterthought on Honegger's part. The chief gimmick of this remarkable piece is that the tempo actually gets slower as the rhythmic figures (pick one) 1) get faster or, at least 2) seem to get faster. He creates the impression of speed while, in fact, slowing things down. Awesome.
If 231 sounds like a serial (atonal) piece to you, you're not alone--it sounds like one to me, too. But the general verdict on 231 says no--highly dissonant, yes, but not atonal. Being without a Berklee degree, I won't attempt to argue with that. But it sure has a serial feel to it, perhaps because the key is jumping around constantly. 231 lurches, rattles, and jerks, but the chaotic action is perfectly contained by the relentless forward momentum. That forward thrust is the glue that holds 231 together. (So my ears insist. They might be hyping things a little bit.)
Brilliant fidelity for 1927. Just amazing. I've seen this recording panned on those grounds, and I don't know what said critics are smoking. This is superbly recorded, and the performance is exemplary. I love the way they race through this!
To the tracks: Pacific 231 (Honegger)
Continental Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Piero Coppola, 1927. Ripped and restored by Lee Hartsfeld (Hey, I know that guy!).