Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
Complete Piano Music
L’Apprenti Sorcier (1897) [10.57]
Piano Sonata (1900) [45.52]
Variations, Interlude et Finale sur un theme de Rameau (1901-2) [17.14]
Prélude élégiaque sur le nom de Haydn (1909) [3.50]
La Plainte, au loin, du Faune (1920) [4.21]
Allegro pour monsieur S.Koussewitzky (1925) [1.00]
Le Tombeau de Paul Dukas (1936)
Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
Tombeau de Paul Dukas
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Pour le Tombeau de Paul Dukas
Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863-1937)
Prélude sur le nom de Paul Dukas
Guy ROPARTZ (1864-1955)
À la mémoire de Paul Dukas
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Hommage à Paul Dukas
Julian KREIN (1913-1996)
Pièce à la mémoire de Paul Dukas
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Pièce pour le Tombeau de Paul Dukas
Tony AUBIN (1907-1981)
Hommage à Paul Dukas
Elsa BARRAINE (1910-1999)
Hommage à Paul Dukas
Marco Rapetti (piano); Riccardo Risaliti (piano) (Sorcier)
rec. 29-31 July 2010, Villa Vespucci, San Felice e Ema, Florence (Steinway Piano D-274)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 9160 [57:13 + 55:14]
17 May 2011, by coincidence the day I first put this CD into the my machine, was the 76th anniversary of the death of Dukas. The Times, in their column entitled ‘What we said’, reprinted part of their obituary to Dukas, and I quote “His most important work is the Symphony in C” but it does acknowledge, in this era before Walt Disney’s Fantasia I that he “is known chiefly for his orchestral scherzo L’Apprenti Sorcier’. It is this piece, in its guise as a virtuoso piano piece, which opens CD 1.
Dukas’s piano music does not quite make up a double CD so Brilliant Classics have included Le Tombeau de Paul Dukas written by his friends and pupils in the months immediately following his death. There are eight pieces in all by the well known and the now forgotten.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was brilliantly transcribed by Dukas himself and in the hands of Rapetti and Risaliti sounds orchestral. It’s amazing how much detail is audible that one knows from the orchestral score. Rarely does a composer have such consistent inspiration as exemplified in this work. This is the first time the two piano version has been recorded. It really should be in the regular repertoire.
The remaining forty or so minutes of CD 1 is devoted to the towering Piano Sonata.It is in four movements with a Scherzo placed third. I can’t think of another French sonata quite like it from this period. Marco Rapetti understands it and presents it ideally and confidently, emphasising its expressive qualities as well as its power. It is even longer than Dukas’s only Symphony in the key of C. Although there are several, no doubt, very fine recordings of this work in the catalogue - for instance that by Marc-André Hamelin on Hyperion CDA 67513 - I am not proposing to do a comparison. For me this was practically the first time I had been able really to come to terms with the work.
The emotional impact that the sonata imparts has never been underestimated especially in the heart-breaking first movement, which seems in search of a tonality, which it never successfully achieves. The second movement marked ‘Calme, un peu lent’ is dreamlike, haunted by the ghosts of and cross-references to, as the booklet tells us “Beethoven, Liszt, Franck, Saint-Säens (to whom it is dedicated and who wanted to add a second pianist to the entire work to make it less virtuoso) and Vincent d’Indy. Debussy - who greatly admired the piece - at the same time was writing his ‘Pour le Piano’ and the third movement Scherzo of this sonata may seem to conjure up parts of Ravel’s ‘Jeux d’eau’ from the same year. That said, Dukas has an almost atonal idea for the middle Trio section. The finale is marked Très lent-Animé and begins with heavy, sonorous chords before breaking into a rippling arpeggio figure. Perhaps the music is offering consolation within its seriousness. The powerful chords take priority and there are deep moments of mystery and uncertainty including a dark almost-melody in the depths of the piano before the Animé section begins. To me Ernest Chausson is recalled here - he had died only a year or so before. Dukas indulges in sequential writing and immediate repetition of certain phrases as he ratchets up the tension. At times one wonders if the movement might have been a little shorter. On the whole though the balance of ideas including a wonderful melody which appears after about five minutes seems to be just right. Rapetti achieves wonders in bring out the moods and ideas in a seemingly ideal flow of passion and virtuosity which lofts the movement and the sonata to their glorious climax. 

CD 2 starts with another homage to Beethoven although not openly so. The Variations, Interlude and Finale on the Rameau theme - a simple Minuet - emerged from a period when Dukas was involved in editing of the older composer’s harpsichord works. He believed Rameau to be an especially outstanding figure as yet little recognized. As such therefore it can be considered a neo-classical work rather ahead of its time. The variations depart alarmingly from the original and are often romantic and passionate. Only the rather stiff tenth with its dotted rhythms has a baroque feel. After the eleventh variation Dukas places a slightly dreamy Interlude before embarking on the longest variation, number twelve, which is itself a series of variations. So, an intriguing work and one much admired apparently by Alban Berg according to Marco Rapetti’s detailed and fascinating booklet notes. These also include a usefu essay about the composer and about each piece. He dwells in some detail on ‘Le Tombeau’; more of that soon.
After Rameau comes Haydn. 1909 was the centenary of his death and Dukas, along with five others including Ravel and Debussy each contributed a brief piano piece. Dukas’s work Prélude élégiaque is, perhaps surprisingly in the light of what has gone before, impressionist; yet he was a close friend of Debussy for most of his life. They played duets together and Dukas was beside Debussy’s deathbed. La Plainte, au loin, du Faune is a real Tombeau to Debussy encapsulating the language and even quoting, at the end, the famous opening of ‘Prélude l’après midi d’un faune’ now sounding despondent and lost. The other little piece, and very little it is, is a sort of orchestrated fanfare - I imagine trumpets and percussion - which constitutes the Allegro pour Monsieur S.Koussewitzky. It was written for a grand reception in honour of Koussevitsky and premiered by Alfred Cortot. It was never heard again and was thought lost. Rapetti in his notes thanks Mme. Rolande Welllhoff, Dukas’ grandniece for helping to locate the manuscript.
Perhaps he felt his own creative urges fading and so poured himself into teaching, study and encouragement of young musicians. He was on the staff of the Paris Conservatoire from about 1909 until retiring in 1928. On his death the magazine La Revue Musicale published in 1936 various piano tributes from his pupils and his immediate contemporaries. All nine are recorded here and a fascinating kaleidoscope of styles they make. I was much taken by Florent Schmitt’s Tombeau with its gently oscillating pedal bass note under a dreamy impressionist but chordal melody - so very French. Falla’scontribution, Pour le Tombeau de Paul Dukas is rather solemn and stodgy but another Spaniard Rodrigo manages to write a perfect miniature rising to a dissonant climax over what is often a very Spanish ostinato-type lament. The pieces by Gabriel Pierné his sombre Prélude sur le nom de Paul Dukas and Guy Ropartz with his reflective À la mémoire de Paul Dukas are each based on the musical letters of his name, the first more melodically the second more chordally.
The little-known Lithuanian pupil of Dukas, Julian Krein is represented by an almost Gershwinesque Pièce à la mémoire de Paul Dukas which, like another Parisian Tony Aubin’s impressionistically entitled Le Sommeil d’Iskender is rather romantic and emotional. In contrast Messiaen’s Pièce pour le Tombeau de Paul Dukas is typically cerebral and using one of his modes of limited transposition is thoroughly Messiaen, as it were. Perhaps Dukas would have approved.
The piece which ends the CD is by a composer new to me, Elsa Barraine who was also Parisian and taught there at the Conservatoire. Her ‘Hommage’ is short and, I’m sorry to say, the least interesting of this collection but good to have available.
So this is a really useful collection. It’s played with commitment and intensity and at an entirely reasonable price. Worth searching out.
Gary Higginson 

A really useful collection played with commitment and intensity and at an entirely reasonable price. Worth searching out.