Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
Fanfare to La Péri (1912) [2:32]
La Péri - Poème Dansé (1912) [19:28]
Symphony in C major (1901) [40:54]
The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1897) [12:04]
Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands/Jean Fournet
rec. no details supplied but probably 1992
REGIS RRC1344 [75:00]
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 Barnett
The playing and direction on the disc is good; my only complaint is that the sound is ever so slightly recessed.