Considered a leading authority on French music, Stéphane Denève often makes exciting repertoire choices. A work which has not been performed in the Netherlands for a very long time, Arthur Honegger's Jeanne d'Arc is most certainly that.
Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher is one of the most inventive oratorios ever composed, constantly flitting between styles and colours. This is grist to conductor Stéphane Denève's mill, who is now a regular guest with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Despite their often tragic overtones, Honegger's compositions are a sensation for audiences and musicians alike. His striking blend of Bach influences, French atmosphere and jazz effects reflects the turbulence of the 1920s and 30s, a time when progressive thought and fatalism were closely connected.
Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher follows the historic French heroine in the hours leading up to her execution. Indeed, the run-up to her death sentence is reconstructed as if in a crime novel. Paul Claudel's lively libretto contrasts Jeanne with an assorted lot of strange and wonderful characters. More than enough reason for Honegger to open up a colourful paintbox: the work features a succession of choral passages infused with spirituality, cubist-like blocks of sound and even bits of material reminiscent of the music hall.