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Honneger’s Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher is classed as a dramatic oratorio, which is rather hedging its bets. A new recording is from a semi-staged performance at the Concertgebouw, which is perhaps an ideal solution. The work starts with Joan of Arc at the moment of execution and looks back over her young life through a series of episodes – hearing of voices, return to her home village of Domrémy, trial – and culminates in her burning. It is a hugely emotional subject and Honneger skilfully saves it from sentimentality or hysteria by switching the focus on and off his heroine; so intimate scenes are contrasted with vignettes of royal and common life. Correspondingly, the music offers a panoply of effects from the spookiness of an ondes Martenot to folk song, chorale and dialogue. It requires large forces, all balanced superbly by conductor Stéphane Denève. Jeanne is a spoken role, taken here by French actress Judith Chemla, heartbreaking in her youth and certitude. She is ably partnered by Jean-Claude Drouot as Frère Dominique, another non-singing role. The large cast is excellent, as are orchestra and chorus.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica


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