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Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
The Essential Paul Dukas
CD1 [72:21]
Fanfare pour précéder 'La Péri'* (1912) [1:55]
La Péri - Poème dansé en un tableau * (1912) [17:40]
L'Apprenti sorcier - Scherzo d'après une ballade de Goethe * (1897) [11:31]
Symphony in C major† (1901) [41:00]
CD2 [71:46]
Polyeucte - Overture after Corneille † (1892) [15:03]
Sonate in E minor ‡ (1901) [47:43]
Prélude élégiaque‡ (1909) [4:38]
La Plainte, au loin, du faune ...‡ (1921) [4:01]
Margaret Fingerhut (piano)‡
Ulster Orchestra/Yan Pascal Tortelier *
BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier †
rec. St Bartholomew's Church, Orford, Suffolk, 22-23 May 1988 (Sonate, Prélude élégiaque, La Plainte, au loin, du faune); Ulster Hall, Belfast
23 February, 26 June and 7 August 1989 (Fanfare, La Péri, L'Apprenti sorcier); Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 16-17 May 1993 (Symphony in C major, Polyeucte)
[72:21 + 71:46]

This is another piece of astute repackaging by Chandos. They certainly take a discriminating interest in their back catalogue. Few corners of it are neglected when it comes to reissues although the Prokofiev Järvis have re-emerged only rarely and the same goes for the Rozhdestvensky Enescus.
There are no other essential Dukas doubles around from other labels and Chandos offer two CDs for the price of one.
It was in the early 1970s that I first heard La Péri - the Poème Dansé that is. At the time I could hardly believe it was not by Bax so vividly does it sound like Fand and Spring Fire. It was written for Diaghilev in 1912. The Middle Eastern tale has Prince Iskander in pursuit of the sleeping fairy La Péri and her lotus of immortality. He takes the blossom and she awakes in tears. He falls hopelessly in love with her, surrenders the flower and she vanishes leaving him to dusty oblivion. It was the composer’s last orchestral work. He was to die 23 years later. It was written for the ballet dancer Natalia Trouhanova who modelled her style on Isadora Duncan - remember the Ken Russell film? The style of this succulent music is related to Balakirev's Tamar, Rimsky's Antar and Biarent's Contes d'Orient. This is superbly recorded and easily recommendable in such startling clear sound with extremely atmospheric results. Not that my quest is finished. I still need to run to ground the Supraphon ADD CD (SU3479-2) of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra with Antonio de Almeida. That also offers the Sorcerer's Apprentice and the Polyeucte overture; not to mention the version that won me over almost 35 years ago: Boulez on CBS-Sony.
Tortelier also draws superlative and idiomatic results from the Ulster Orchestra in the L'Apprenti Sorcier almost making us forget Disney. The performance brings out the pawky humour of the piece. We also clearly hear the apprentice’s fear in the rhythmically tight and beautifully timbred bassoon solo and the apostrophising shrieking trumpet at 8:55. Worthwhile reminding ourselves that this very French piece from 1879 was based on a ballad by Goethe.
Those two pieces came from a CD offering a mixed marriage of Dukas and Chabrier (both Wagnerians) on Chandos CHAN8852 sponsored by Gallaher.
We are not awash in versions of the Dukas symphony. The one I have cherished for many years is Martinon's 1970s version on the now long gone Pathé-Marconi L'esprit Française series. There's also reportedly a good one from 1985 on Warner Apex 0927 48725-2 with the Nouvel Philharmonic Orchesta conducted by Armin Jordan (see review of recording by López-Cobos). Tortelier has full  measure of this big-boned epic piece which has a potent classical power, an unFranckian clarity of orchestration and a rampant charge. Listen to the almost obstreperous rush of the allegro spiritoso and an Elgarian boisterousness which for a moment clouds the textures into a glorious matte effect.  Fascinatingly this beefy work shows Dukas leaning in its themes more towards Franck - e.g. in the finale at 09:00. There are also a few presentiments of the fantasy-imaginative Dukas of La Péri
The second disc is predominantly of piano music drawn from Margaret Fingerhut's Chandos CD. However the disc starts with the Polyeucte Overture (after Corneille's drama) the original coupling for the Symphony on Chandos CHAN 9225, dating 1993. The overture is from 1891 written after army service. It was premiered the next year. It has its swooning Wagnerian moments but it is by no means his strongest or most imaginative piece. The tender Tchaikovskian melody at 12:00 is however certainly worth encountering but it’s the exception.
The Sonata is played and recorded in full tone. As exegesis this version is shot through with a sullen grandeur that variously reminds the listener of the heights of the Beethoven sonatas sometimes disturbed and enriched by cross-currents from Rachmaninov (e.g. Isle of the Dead). The second movement Calme is magically done and permits a turning away from vehemence to a steadying pulse – a finding of reflective space. Fingerhut and Dukas blow the cobwebs to shreds with the Vivement (III) before the grandeur returns for finale marked Très lent. Here there is a tendency to portentousness which is a feature of the music rather than any function of Fingerhut's interpretation. Towards the end the music takes on a decorative element - almost Saint-Saëns’ Second Piano Concerto.  Saint-Saëns was the dedicatee of the Sonata. 
The two shorter pieces are more subtle still. The Prélude Elégiaque and La Plainte from 1910 and 1921 clearly benefit from harmonic doors opened by Debussy. They are from a more knowing world than the Sonate. The difference between them and the Sonate is the difference between the Frank Bridge of the 1900s and the post-Great War Bridge of the 1920s. The lights play subtly and move constantly over these inventive pieces.
Dukas is fascinating. His music moves from the Wagnerian-Franckian romance of the Sonate and the Symphony to the exoticism of La Péri and onwards to the impressionist discoveries of Debussy. Richard Langham Smith claims that Dukas explored his own path. I wonder, for he seems, like Bridge, to have been a malleable creator who moved between styles with an adeptness of creativity that spun fine music wherever he travelled. The pity is that there is not more of it. It is an irony that from 1912 and his appointment as Professor of Composition at the Paris Conservatoire there were no other major works from his pen.
Looking back to the original Fingerhut issue we miss out only on the Rameau Variations, Interlude and Finale but there was no space for that. 
Hubeau who, incredible as it may seem, studied with Dukas can still be heard in a 1987 recording on Warner Apex 0927 48996-2. His Sonate is not to be preferred to Fingerhut's though Hubeau's grace shines through in the second movement. Overall Hubeau while having no lack of power finds the realms of the spirit not his natural habitat.
This is a notably generous double collection which is handsomely what it says on the box. Design choices in the booklet and inserts are typically well-judged. The annotation from the original issues - and on which I have drawn heavily for this review - is by Edward Blakeman and Richard Langham Smith.
Rob Barnett


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