fame of Paul Dukas rests on a single work, the ubiquitous
Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a composition so universal that
it has eclipsed a small but outstanding output of other music.
was born in 1865 into a wealthy family that encouraged his
study of music. After the failure of this First Symphony in
1897, Dukas gained some sweet revenge when his symphonic scherzo
based on Goethe’s tale of a sorcerer’s apprentice gone amok
became internationally famous. Alas, an over-active self-criticism
led to the destruction of many later works, and to a complete
creative silence during most of the last decade of his life.
Dukas did, however, go on to become one of France’s
most respected music critics, and was a successful teacher
with Messiaen, Duruflé and Alain numbered amongst his students.
pianist Tor Espen Aspaas has done this neglected composer
a great service with this outstanding recording of piano works.
Opening with the monumental Sonata in e-flat minor, Aspaas
brings forth this richly textured, incredibly orchestral work
with a perfection that I have seldom heard in a young pianist.
He has a complete sense of the grand structure of the work,
its frequently shifting moods and its vast palette of colors.
Truly symphonic in its scope, the very length of this work
- only one movement runs for less than ten minutes - risks
the fate that befalls many a later piano sonata; that of disintegrating
into a structure-less rambling nothingness. Not so this magnificently
constructed work, full of contrasts of mood, at once full
of angst and pathos, and then followed by sublime moments
the performance! Frankly, I have been bombarded of late with
over-ripe piano discs, full of performer ego, background grunting
and groaning and brash, tasteless playing. Not so this young
artist. He sits at the piano, performs the music with not
only technical perfection, but also with a complete control
over his own faculties. Oh yes, there is plenty of expression,
and Aspaas is by no means afraid to let you know that he has
a fabulous technique, but his virtuosity is never at the expense
of the music. In short, this is playing of the very highest
order. Where has this guy been? And why isn’t he on the cover
of magazines. He is far superior to many of the “stars” out
sonata alone would be enough to make a satisfying record,
but we get three more works, beginning with the Prélude
élégiaque on the name of Haydn. Dreamy and contemplative,
Aspaas gets a rich and sonorous tone from the piano and chooses
a pace that is never lugubrious, but still has the necessary
Rameau variations present a much different mood and timbre.
Based on a little dance, it is rather startling to hear the
seventeenth century harmonies of the original immediately
followed by the rich impressionistic sonorities of the later
composer. What I found most refreshing about the work was
the “Oh my, I wonder what’s next!” anticipation I felt upon
my first hearing of the music. Each variation is remarkably
fresh and unique. As I listened, I kept wondering how on earth
I had missed this music for so long. Again, the performance
is clean, flawlessly executed, and the warm but clear tone
that Aspaas gets from the piano is fantastic.
last entry on this outstanding recording is a leaf from a
collection of small works put together in tribute to Claude
Debussy on his passing. Stravinsky, Satie and de Falla were
among the other contributing composers. Based on fragments
from Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, this
is lonely and sad music, quite effectively expressing the
composer’s grief at the loss of his great friend and colleague.
by the artist are informative and concise and the sound quality
from Simax is beyond reproach. No lover of piano music should
be without this one. Absolutely superior at every level, this
is world class music performed by a world class artist. Do
I gush? Perhaps, but long-time readers will also know that
I am not afraid to call it when it’s bad. Buy this disc. You
will thank me, I promise.