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Danse Macabre
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1897) [10.42]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
The Noonday Witch, Op. 108 (1896) [14.55]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
A Night on the Bare Mountain (1867, re-orchestrated Rimsky-Korsakov 1886) [11.51]
Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Tamara (1867/82) [22.05]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Danse Macabre, Op. 40 (1874) [7.23]
Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Hallowe’en for sextet from Three Outdoor Scenes (1898/1911) [2.31]
Andrew Wan (violin: Danse Macabre)
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal/Kent Nagano
rec. live 29-30 October 2015, Maison symphonique de Montréal, Canada
DECCA 4830396 [69.26]

Named Danse macabre this album was recorded during a series of three concerts titled Kent Nagano celebrates Halloween played by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal at the Maison symphonique. For Halloween celebrations the programme was designed to include works “evoking mystery, suspense and thrills and chills” with the audience of young and old invited to attend the concerts in Halloween costumes.

The opening work on the disc Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was completed in 1897. Here Dukas is depicting the 1797 poem ‘Der Zauberlehrling’ by Goethe featuring the pranks of the calamitous apprentice. Renown came when Walt Disney’s film Fantasia (1940) used the Dukas score in the soundtrack. Under Nagano this appealing work really fizzes along with some lovely wind playing especially the bassoon solo first heard at point 2.18.

Written in 1896 Dvořák’s tone poem The Noonday Witch is inspired by the Erben poem ‘Polednice’ which is based on Slavic folk legend. In the tale the Noonday Witch appears in response to a mother’s threat to her misbehaving child. The Noonday Witch is one of five tone poems which Dvořák wrote around this time, works that deserve to be better known. Here the performance of the Montréal orchestra is first rate creating plenty of drama and atmosphere.

Mussorgsky’s A Night on the Bare Mountain, completed in 1867, is a depiction based on the Russian folk legend of the Witches Sabbath which occurs on St John’s Eve. The work received acclaim when Rimsky-Korsakov re-orchestrated the score after Mussorgsky’s death. Thrilling is the one word to describe this performance, which is highly evocative of the eerie nocturnal atmosphere as the witches and evil spirits gather.

The lengthiest work here, at 22 minutes, is the symphonic poem Tamara by Balakirev, fifteen years in the making and completed in 1882. Balakirev was inspired by the folk legend of the Caucasus region based on the Lermontov poem featuring the beautiful but evil Queen Tamara enticing men to her castle. Nagano directs a fine interpretation which contains definite traits of orientalism and the near stifling atmosphere of seduction with an undercurrent of peril is conspicuous.

Probably the best known work here is Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre from 1874, the tone poem based on the text of the art house poem by Henri Cazalis. The composer originally scored the work for voice and piano before replacing the voice by the violin and adding the orchestra. This is a real audience favourite, which I don’t seem to hear in concert so much in recent decades. Nagano and his players create a fitting sense of the grotesque including skeletons rising from their graves for wild and ghoulish dancing. Worthy of note are the outstanding violin solos.

The final work ‘Hallowe’en’ is one of the Three Outdoor Scenes which Ives composed over the period 1898/1911. A work I was hearing for the first time, it is performed here in a version for string quartet, piano and percussion that was first given in 1934. It’s a short work lasting under three minutes which I found rather disappointing and in truth it doesn’t amount to much.

Under Nagano’s baton the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal play stylishly with plenty of zest. There is a real sense of warmth and exhilaration with an abundance of vivid orchestral colour, and some quite wonderful wind solos. Recorded live at the Maison symphonique de Montréal the sound quality is to a high standard with good clarity and balance. There is some very minor audience noise which serves to provide atmosphere of the live performance and I notice that the applause has been left in at the conclusion of the Ives Hallowe’en. There is so much to enjoy here on this Decca release Danse macabre and the performances could hardly be bettered.

Michael Cookson



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