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Vernon DUKE (Vladimir Dukelsky) (1903-1969)
Piano Concerto (1923) (completed by Scott Dunn) (1998) [18:20]
Cello Concerto (1945) [26:37]
Homage to Boston (Suite for solo piano) [12:33]
Scott Dunn (piano), Sam Magill (cello)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dimitry Yablonsky
rec. 27 September–1 October 2006, Studio 5, Russian State TV and Radio Company, Kultura, Moscow (Concertos); 6 January 2007, Glenn Gould Studio, CBC Toronto (Suite). DDD
NAXOS 8.559286 [57:30]
Experience Classicsonline

Vernon Duke makes it very clear, in his entertaining autobiography Passport to Paris (Little, Brown and Co, Boston 1955), that he was born Vladimir Dukelsky. His concert works were written under that name but when he wrote for Broadway or Hollywood his name was Vernon Duke.
It was George Gershwin who suggested the change of name to the Russian and it was a sensible move; after all, could you really believe that the song April in Paris, so American in its nostalgic resonance, was written by a Russian? But then could you believe that the song High Noon was written by a student of Glazunov? So Vladimir Dukelsky wrote symphonies and chamber music and the rest, and Vernon Duke wrote Taking a Chance on Love, I Can’t Get Started, the score for She’s Working Her Way Through College (1952), and the completion of Gershwin’s score for the film The Goldwyn Follies (1937), on the composer’s death, contributing two original ballets and a conclusion to Gershwin’s Love is Here to Stay
The difference is important for Dukelsky is the composer of the music on this disk. It does him a disservice to represent him, basically, as another man, but perhaps people no longer know who Dukelsky is. Certainly they used to as I have several LPs of music by the Russian and there is no mistaking him as Dukelsky.
Perhaps I’m being pedantic, but if the composer perceived the difference then perhaps we should acknowledge that fact.
That said, this is a superb disk. The Piano Concerto was conceived for Rubinstein but Dukelsky never orchestrated the work. It was never performed in his lifetime and it’s such an attractive work. In one movement, playing for just over 18 minutes, it is light and frothy , brim full of good tunes. What else would you expect from a work written in the twenties with more than a nod towards Les Six? At first hearing I thought that there was, perhaps, a little too much Prokofiev in the score; Dukelsky and Prokofiev were fellow students in the composition class of Reinhold Glière, at the Kiev Conservatory. They remained friends until the older man returned to Russia after which the contact between them ceased. Dukelsky never heard from his friend again. Repeated hearings have revealed that while there is a light powdering of the Prokofiev sound it is fleeting. It’s quite neo-classical in feel and the style is only broken by the interruption of a brief, but exotic, samba!
The Cello Concerto is a bigger and much more serious work. Written for Piatigorsky, and commissioned by Koussevitsky, the work took three years to write. Its composition was interrupted by Dukelsky’s serving in the US Coast Guard. It is a bold romantic work. There are occasional hints of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, to be sure, but this in no way corrupts the music which is pure Dukelsky. Two fast movements enclose an elegy of great beauty, perhaps a lament for the dead of the war just ended. The first movement starts with a cadenza for the soloist and the finale is a kind of macabre march with a brisk coda.
The Suite, Homage to Boston, which closes the disk, is dedicated “to the members of the Boston Symphony”, the seven short movements portraying various people and places in Boston familiar to the composer. The movements are so brief that they fly past in an instant. There’s the grand romantic gesture in the first movement , a sly waltz, a gavotte (in homage to Prokofiev) and a final Mecanicamente (Midnight Train).
It’s fine stuff from a composer who has never really received his due, and whose concert works are woefully unrepresented on disk these days. The performances are totally committed, everyone playing for all they are worth, and the recorded sound has everything well in perspective with a good balance between soloist and orchestra. The solo Suite is equally well done.
One of the very best, and, for me, most interesting, releases in Naxos’s American Classics series.
Bob Briggs

see also reviews by William Kreindler and Rob Barnett



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