Arthur Honegger: Concerto da camera
Composed in 1948 after a commission from American patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, Concerto da camera is a concerto with the unusual combination of soloists. Using an English Horn (Cor Anglais) and flute as the soloists, and a string orchestra as the accompaniment, Concerto da camera is one of only a few of its kind. Coolidge had requested that Honegger composed a work that showcased the English Horn as a soloist, so that Boston Symphony Orchestra English Horn playing Louis Speyer could play it. Honegger chose to use the concerto form for this work, and then subsequently dedicated the work to Speyer.
Cast into three contrasting movements, Concerto da camera showcases the two soloists in a number of different ways.
Movement I – Allegretto amabile
Largely based on folk music, the unusual opening movement starts with a fluctuating string theme. The English Horn enters with the principal theme, which shadows the strings, and the two engage in musical dialogue. The flute also joins, although with much more virtuosic take on the melody. Honegger described this movement as:
“The first part is based on very simple themes of popular character which stand out against the background of string harmonies from which they arise.”
The unusually light textures allow for the soloists to be centre stage as they interweave their melodies. The flute is noticeably more virtuosic than the English Horn, but this creates a more pastoral feeling within the movement as the horn provides a platform for the flute at times. Bold unison segments with the orchestra creates rich harmonic movement that showcases Honegger’s style. The opening theme returns and the movement concludes quietly.
Movement II – Andante
The slow-moving second movement is rich in texture and harmony as Honegger explores a more drawn-out approach to melodic development. He described this movement as:
“The Andante contains a melodic theme, which progresses from solemnity to a sharp brilliance in an atmosphere of somewhat melancholy calm.”
As the melody grows between the work of the flute and English Horn, the dynamics slowly rise too. There is a sense of pastoral style in this movement, which creates a warm atmosphere as the soloists start their complex counterpoint. Honegger claimed he wrote this work to be both gracious to the player and delightful to the listener, and this movement is a real testament to that goal.
Movement III – Vivace
The scherzo finale starts with just the two soloists performing a jaunty set of passages that set off the counterpoint once more. Scattered in there are small unison phrases which brings the music back together before the strings enter with their theme. The whirling accompaniment from the strings builds intensity in the music as the two soloists push the boundaries of their themes. The syncopated English Horn keeps the tempo moving as the flute has fast and flexible key work that sees it running up and down scales across its range. The intricate coda sees the piece conclude quietly with a cheeky unison passage from the soloists.
Ⓒ Alex Burns