Dukas: Symphony in C; La péri; L’apprenti sorcier

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COMPOSERS: Dukas
LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Symphony in C; La péri; L’apprenti sorcier
PERFORMER: Cincinnati SO/Jesús López-Cobos
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80515
Jesús López-Cobos shows impressive flair in French repertoire, and his orchestra (rather its alter ego, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra under Erich Kunzel) has already recorded Dukas’s best-known work, the Goethe-inspired L’apprenti sorcier, for this leading-edge audiophile label. After Leonard Slatkin’s identical RCA coupling with the French National Orchestra, López-Cobos’s poised and majestic reading of Dukas’s seldom-played C major Symphony invites further reappraisal of the work. Slatkin chases the music relentlessly, creating an ignoble distortion of Dukas’s finer intentions. López-Cobos accords it proper regard, and (like Yan Pascal Tortelier) tempers Dukas’s heady ardour with the reassuring surefootedness you’d normally expect in Bruckner, so its cumulative impact never becomes unwieldy. The Cincinnati SO outclasses Tortelier’s BBC Philharmonic, but neither version fully eclipses the Gallic gleam of Michel Plasson’s deleted EMI recording, with the Toulouse Capitole Orchestra.

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Tortelier’s Chandos disc has the Wagner-inspired Polyeucte overture as filler. López-Cobos and Slatkin offer the ballet score La péri (together with its fanfare), in addition to L’apprenti sorcier. It’s much the better programme for a representative single-disc overview of Dukas. Again, López-Cobos makes out the better case for this rarely staged (but not infrequently recorded) ballet, though Tortelier’s Ulster Orchestra performance (also Chandos) has moments of mystery and allure that make one wish he’d had a better orchestra at his command. Finally, while Dukas’s most popular essay L’apprenti sorcier never gained universal currency before Disney enshrined it in celluloid, López-Cobos’s account, played with aptly Mephistophelian bravura by the Cincinnati SO would definitely have made the wait worthwhile. Strongly recommended. Michael Jameson