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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Zéphyr et Flore; Epitaphe
PERFORMER: Ilma Achmadeeva (soprano); Netherlands Theatre Choir, The Hague Residentie Orchestra/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Grove doesn’t list Vladimir Dukelsky (1903-69). It does, however, list Vernon Duke, the alias the Russian-born composer adopted – at Gershwin’s suggestion – when he started writing Broadway shows in the mid-Twenties. It’s true that Dukelsky, whose symphonies were championed by Koussevitzky, tried initially to keep his serious and popular personas apart, but it’s surely perverse that the name under which he is best known – for such hit songs as ‘April in Paris’ and musicals like Cabin in the Sky – is nowhere to be found on this CD. But then Chandos’s sloppy booklet editor manages to credit herself but not the artist behind the striking series of Matisse-like line-drawings she reproduces (ludicrously small) within the text. Presumably, they show Massine’s original choreography for Duke’s 1925 ballet Zéphyr et Flore. And very sexy it must have looked too. Serge Lifar, who danced in it with the Ballets Russes, called Duke Diaghilev’s favourite son after Stravinsky and Prokofiev, whose protégé he became, while Poulenc praised his ‘unpretentious freshness of melody’. No wonder: in its mix of neo-classical cool, sweet ’n’ sour harmonies, bright (piano-pointed) scoring and rumbustious wrong-note lyricism, Zéphyr sounds just like Prokofiev or Poulenc (in post-Stravinskian, Les biches mode), with distinct echoes of Petrushka in its finale. The 1931 Epitaphe – setting verses by the Acmeist poet Osip Mandelstam, lost to the Gulag in 1938 – is denser, darker stuff, shadowy with unspoken dread. Ironically, Duke once founded a Society for Forgotten Music. Thanks to these powerful premiere recordings, he should be forgotten no longer (whatever his name was). Mark Pappenheim