Dukas, Franck, Lazzari, Duparc, Saint-Sa‘ns

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COMPOSERS: Dukas,Duparc,Franck,Lazzari,Saint-Sa‘ns
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: French Symphonic Poems
WORKS: L’apprenti sorcier; Le chasseur maudit; Effet de nuit; Lénore; Aux étoiles; Danse macabre
PERFORMER: Toulouse Capitole Orchestra/Michel Plasson
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 55385 2
Three rarities on this collection of French symphonic poems in the Gothic or comic-Gothic mode. Those who know Duparc’s own orchestral versions of his songs will not be surprised at the talent for atmosphere shown in Lénore (1875), which describes its medieval heroine’s night-long ride in the company of her betrothed, who, given up for dead, has belatedly returned from the crusades to marry her. Their journey ends up in – but no, I mustn’t spoil it.

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Despite its half-Messiaenic title, Duparc’s evanescent, vaguely mystical entr’acte for an unpublished drama (1874) is more anonymous and a good deal more slight, but it too proves more worthwhile than Sylvio Lazzari’s obscure tableau symphonique of 1903, based on a sombre vignette by Verlaine, depicting scaffolds and convicts in the gloom, which has so little sense of musical direction as to be practically rooted to the spot.

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César Franck’s portrayal of the terrible end of a Sabbath-breaking huntsman (a dire warning to blood-sports enthusiasts) sounds suitably hair-raising in Michel Plasson’s credibility-restoring performance, while the two masterpieces here – Dukas’s fastidiously crafted scherzo and Saint-Saëns’s witty piece of grotesquerie – come up fresh as paint. The orchestral playing is superb, the sound focused and ebullient. George Hall