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Vernon DUKE (Vladimir Dukelsky) (1903-1969)
Piano Concerto (orch. Dunn) (1923/1998) [18:20]
Cello Concerto (1938) [26:37]
Homage to Boston - suite for piano solo (1945) [12:33]
Scott Dunn (piano)
Sam Magill (cello)
Russian PO/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. 27 September-1 October 2006, Studio 5, Russian State TV and Radio Company KULTURA, Moscow (Concertos); 6 January 2006, Glenn Gould Studio, CBC, Toronto (Homage to Boston)
World Premiere Recordings
Text in English included
NAXOS 8.559286 [57:30]

 


The Russian composer Vladimir Dukelsky was born in 1903. The American composer Vernon Duke was born in America about twenty years later when his friend George Gershwin suggested that Dukelsky use his Russian name for serious compositions and the Anglo-Saxon name for the musical shows and songs he had started writing. Both composers were successful in their respective fields, but in 1955 the two personalities were merged under the Duke name. On this disc we have the concert composer, including at least two world premieres. 

The earliest composed piece on this disc is the one-movement Piano Concerto, which has an interesting history. The nineteen-year-old composer wrote it for Artur Rubinstein after emigrating to America because of the Russian Revolution. He never orchestrated it and Rubinstein never played it, although a two-piano version was published. Not until 1998 did the soloist on this disc, Scott Dunn, orchestrate it and give the first performance. From the first thematic statements we can tell that we are in the presence of an admirer of Prokofieff and Stravinsky - Duke was close with both composers. Les Six also make an appearance. In the “development” things become more serious and Duke proves himself capable of some very imaginative thematic development. There are a number of tempo changes in this section before a fine return of the secondary theme. After short cadenzas for the piano and the cello, the pianist launches into a second cadenza which leads to some excellent final development of the original material. 

Homage to Boston is a suite of piano evocations of life in Boston, a town that Duke spent much time in as Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony gave many premieres of his concert works. The idiom here still retains many aspects of the style evinced in the piano concerto, but the harmony is more dissonant and the handling of materials more integrated. This piece and the cello concerto are the works of an imaginative, mature composer. The Charles River is the main river of Boston and it literally flows along smoothly. Nearby Boston Common is quieter than the river - perhaps it’s night. Molly was a young lady about whom Duke was quite serious and that may explain the thicker texture and more advanced harmony in this piece. I don’t know which poet is depicted in the Poco Pomposo, but this title could probably apply to many New England poets, although the jazzy part at the end is surprising. Dining at the Ritz seems pretty generic, but the Prokofieff [recital?] in Louisburg Sq. is an interesting contrast. Finally, the Midnight Train takes us back, presumably to New York, and we feel that this was a very good visit.

Like Homage to Boston, the Cello Concerto is the work of a mature composer and shows a depth of feeling not evident in the other two works, as well as a rich combination of the composer’s Russian and American stylistic elements. In the first movement a sorrowful cadenza is followed by a serious first section and then a more satirical part reminiscent of Stravinsky. These are combined into an effective recapitulation before another cello cadenza. The second movement is slightly more American in style. It is mostly scored with a few winds accompanying the cello. The soloist himself is frequently called upon to play in a higher register than in the rest of the work and the part becomes progressively sadder in tone as the movement continues. Finally we have a sort of march-like scherzo with alternating virtuoso and gentle interludes. The gentle, somewhat sad, parts win out in the end, although the coda is traditional. 

As the reviver or resuscitator of Duke’s Concerto, Dunn’s performance will remain standard even if there are other recordings. He has an excellent feel for Duke’s alternations between concert hall and cabaret/night club and demonstrates this especially in some of the pieces in Homage to Boston. Magill adopts a more measured approach to his concerto, but this pays off well in the parts requiring the middle register of the cello and he excels at projecting the sorrowful tone of certain sections of the piece. Yablonsky is competent as always, although one feels that he is not totally in sympathy with Duke. The sound in the Moscow hall leaves something to be desired in the way of richness; less brittle music would only further emphasize this aspect. The Glenn Gould Studio is better suited to its music.

Naxos American Classics has performed a genuine service this time in recording music that many must have wondered about, but probably never thought they would hear.

William Kreindler
 
And a further perspective from Rob Barnett:-

Vladimir Dukelsky took the name 'Vernon Duke' at the suggestion of George Gershwin. He began as a pupil of Gliere alongside Prokofiev in Kiev. Fleeing the Russian Revolution Dukelsky went to the USA and there lived a double life. This disc concentrates on his neglected concert works. 

The brilliant and gangling Piano Concerto was written for Rubinsten who wanted something compact, pianistically grateful and not too cerebral. It fits the bill completely, glinting with bright jangling orchestration and alive with neo-classical brusqueness. Works and composers evoked include Prokofiev (Classical Symphony and Love of Three Oranges), the Stravinsky of Pulcinella and Petrushka, Auric, Milhaud, the jazzy Lambert, Poulenc and even Grainger's The Warriors. There is also a strong sentimental-romantic thread running through this music. It is all done with swoon and scintillation by Dunn - who completed the work - and his colleagues. 

The Cello Concerto is a different proposition. It leaves behind the carnival high jinks of the Piano Concerto. Instead  this is music of impassioned and nuanced romantic concentration. Determinedly tonal it is melancholy, soulful and sentimental. A fine work, it is unshowy, sincere and memorable. In short a wonderful addition to the potentially active repertoire of accomplished cellists everywhere. It melodic content is moving in much the same way as the themes and treatment in Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. 

The seven movement solo piano suite is affectingly romantic, playful, taut and grand in the manner of Barber's Souvenirs.

Duke made a living in the USA in the field of musicals and popular music. Clearly he had other facets. Exploration of his three symphonies must now be a priority.

Rob Barnett

 

 


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