Dukas is one of the great might-have-beens of French music.
A contemporary of Saint-Saëns, Debussy and Ravel, he was
a renowned music critic and teacher at the Paris Conservatoire
as well as being a composer. He was a rigorous perfectionist
when it came to his own music, destroying all but a handful
of the works he composed. Consequently, he is one of the rare
breed of composers whose almost entire significant oeuvre
can be fitted onto one CD.
La Péri was written as a dance poem for the Ballet
Russes, and was danced for the first time at the Châtelet
in 1912. The scenario involves a Persian king who finds a fairy
maiden, the Péri, who holds the flower of eternal life.
When he takes it from her she dances seductively, takes back
the flower and eventually disappears into the sky, after which
the king himself dies. The fanfare that opens the work is recorded
well in sonorous stereo and the rest of the work has a shimmering
orchestral texture of diaphanous beauty. There is an unmistakable
impressionistic glint to the music and Debussy’s sound
world is only a short distance away. The string tone is especially
characterful in this performance: it seems impossible to pin
down, always changing, morphing, glimmering like the Péri
herself. The composer builds an arch-like structure, leading
up to the great climax about 14 minutes into track 2, then subsiding
to the distinctive rocking theme which anchors the work in its
mysterious, Eastern world. For me, an air of slightly decadent
beauty hangs over the whole work.
The Symphony has merit but convinced me less. There is a swinging
busyness to the first movement’s first subject and the
bumptious brass codetta to the exposition felt quite
cinematic, though the development is a little repetitious. The
same problem afflicted the finale which, for me, was too reliant
on a limited set of phrases to carry anything resembling true
symphonic weight, despite its attractively upbeat ending. The
real star of the show was the slow movement: the long-breathed
violin line of its main theme was arrestingly beautiful, especially
the major-key second half with its commentary from the flute.
The slightly heady feeling of the whole movement put me in mind
of Rimsky’s Scheherazade in places.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by far Dukas’
most famous work thanks to Mickey Mouse, bumbles along nicely,
the main theme sounding slower but more comical than one would
normally hear. The playing and direction on the disc is good;
my only complaint is that the sound is ever so slightly recessed,
sounding as though it comes from quite far away. However, Regis’
budget price will probably help most listeners to come to terms
with that easily enough.
see also review by Rob