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André CAPLET (1878-1925)

Conte fantastique after Edgar Allan Poe's Masque of the Red Death (1919) [17:08]
Elisabeth Glab (violin), Marie-Josée Ritchot (violin), Michel Renard (viola), Isabelle Veyrier (cello), Laurence Cabel (harp) 
Les prières (1917) [9:12]

Elisabeth Glab (violin), Marie-Josée Ritchot (violin), Michel Renard (viola), Isabelle Veyrier (cello), Laurence Cabel (harp), Sharon Coste (soprano)
Divertissements (2) for harp (1924) [9:56]
Laurence Cabel (harp)
Sonnets (2) for soprano and harp (1924) [3:37]
Laurence Cabel (harp), Sandrine Piau (soprano)
Septet for three female voices and string quartet (1909) [14:24]
Sharon Coste (Soprano), Sandrine Piau (soprano), Sylvie Deguy (mezzo), Elisabeth Glab (violin), Marie-Josée Ritchot (violin), Michel Renard (viola), Isabelle Veyrier (cello)
Ensemble: Musique Oblique
rec. February 1992, Arsenal de Metz, Salle de l'Esplanade. DDD


This disc first appeared in 1992 and is now reissued in Harmonia Mundi's long-standing bargain basement line. 

Caplet is known to most people who know their Debussy. The two were friends and collaborators. They met in 1907 and such was Debussy's trust that he left it to Caplet to orchestrate his Martyre de Saint Sébastien. Other composers we know initially because of the Debussy connection include Koechlin and Henri Büsser.  Caplet was however a subtle composer in his own right. He was also a conductor and while in Boston in 1910 introduced American audiences to the works of Raoul Laparra, the magically creative Louis Aubert (do not miss out on hearing Le Tombeau de Chateaubriand - a vivid seascape) and Henri Février. In 1922 he conducted Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces, Ravel's La Valse and Satie's Socrate for the first time in France.

Caplet will also be known because of the Naxos/Marco Polo collection of his orchestral music and several years ago there was the revelatory recording of his Great War memento-expiation Epiphanie for cello and orchestra (EMI Classics) - a work every bit as fine as Bridge's Oration (see review).

The Conte Fantastique (based on Poe's The Masque of the Red Death) is for harp and string quartet. It is also known from a Pathé-Marconi-EMI recording for full string orchestra with Prêtre conducting ORTF forces. This is a macabre tale told through eerily suggestive and minimalistic music. It carries elements of Ravel's Introduction and Allegro and Debussy's Danses sacrées et Danses Profanes. Strange harmonics careen across the score and whisps and veils of lush sound sweep slowly by. The dancing of the nobleman's court is a vaporous and effete thing rather than vigorous. Much of the writing is very quiet, sighed out, confidingly cackled and whispered. The dénouement when death in the form of the harp is unveiled is magically done. It is like an extension of the creepiest music in The Firebird married with middle-period Schoenberg.

Then come the sombre and Spartan Les Prières for singer, harp and string quartet. These are almost ascetic except in the devoutly climaxed Symboles des Apôtres which is most originally and inventively structured.  The two Divertissements for solo harp are dedicated to the harpist Micheline Kahn. The first A la française, in its chiming parabolic flight, recalls the first movement of Cyril Scott's First Piano Concerto of 1914-15.  The second A l'espagnole accommodates the complete gamut of flamenco from the guitar to the stamping of polished steely heels. Once again this is very original and inventive writing. After the reserve of Les Prières the two secular sonnets come as a relief. The first, Quand reverai-je, hélas superbly captures the miniature mood: the small vision of home for which the singer pines. And there is more ecstatic pining in the Ronsard setting Doux fut le trait (Sweet was the dart).

The Septet for string quartet and three vocalising women's voices is from 1907. At 14:24 it is the second longest piece here. Here is another work using vocalise to add to Foulds, Medtner, RVW, Gliere and Rachmaninov. The trio of voices add a more directly lissom, sometimes melismatic, sometimes crooningly lyrical strand, often high in the stave. These voices are more forwardly immediate than those in Debussy's Sirènes. The effect is not sensuous but mysterious and appetisingly distant.

The useful notes are by Claire Moreau and all the sung texts are printed in French English and German.

This is music for connoisseurs  and especially for those with an interest to follow up in Debussy's circle … but do not expect a Debussy apprentice.

Rob Barnett 


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