DUKAS: L’apprenti sorcier (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice); La Péri: Fanfare; La Péri: Poème dansé; Symphony in C Major – RTÉ National Sym. Orch./ Jean-Luc Tingaud – Naxos 8.573296, 71:46 ****1/2:
Paul Dukas was legendarily chary of placing himself before the public—so much so that if the current album had included the early Polyeucte Overture, it would contain all of his published orchestral output: about 85 minutes’ worth of music. Then again, perhaps Dukas was right to be so discriminating; there’s no a clunker in the batch. These are all works worth hearing, and hearing again. Thanks to Walt Disney, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is maybe the most familiar tone poem ever written. But the masterpiece here is La Péri, a gorgeous sonic bath of a piece, from its unforgettably rousing Fanfare through every moment of Oriental meanderings.
Incidentally, the notes to the current recording reproduce the entire scenario that appeared with the published score. It includes a bunch of purple-prose hokum about an Eastern adventurer named Iskender and his search for the “Flower of Immortality.” He finds it clutched in the hand of the sleeping Peri of the title. Torn between desire for the beautiful Peri and his craving for immortality represented by the lotus flower she bears, he loses both. The end of the ballet finds him still stranded in this veil of tears, awaiting his own imminent demise. I’ve never heard of the ballet being mounted anywhere, and given the iffy scenario, it would be pretty hard to bring off convincingly on stage. Fortunately, the music is as mesmerizing as the scenario is not!
The Symphony in C of 1895 is my favorite Franck Symphony knockoff: more accomplished and memorable than similar efforts by Chausson, Magnard, et al. The outer movements really move, especially the quicksilver rondo finale. And the central Andante has a radiant middle section that’s immediately grabbing.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice needs no introduction, as they say, but a fine performance like the current one reminds you how effective a piece this is, from the spooky high string figures at the start to the brisk, comical close. Remember, in Disney’s cartoon incarnation from the movie Fantasia, here the Sorcerer gives his apprentice (Mickey Mouse) a final swat with a broom for all the trouble he’s caused.
Jean-Luc Tingaud is a name I’m not familiar with, but I hope I’ll be hearing more from him soon. (In fact, Naxos has just released a collection of Bizet’s orchestral music with Tingaud and the RTÉ.) He studied with the great conductor of music for the stage, Manuel Rosenthal, which shows in Tingaud’s sensuous reading of La Péri. The conductor has prepared his band well; they sound quite French in these performances, with the bright brass sonorities that French composers favor and suave playing in the other departments as well. Naxos’s recording, too, is a fine one: crisp and clear, with excellent transient response. (The percussion in La Péri is really scintillating!) I should mention that this program is matched piece for piece by Jesús López-Cobos and the Cincinnati Symphony on a Telarc SACD. For those with surround-sound setups, the López-Cobos recoding has a special claim to your attention. On the other hand, with excellent playing and state-of-art digital sound, the present disc from Naxos is more than a bargain, and I highly recommend it.