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
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.
Other Caplet Reviews: