Dukas: Orchestral Works

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

This is a very interesting release that all lovers of Dukas and of 19th-century French music will want to own as a matter of course. The two early (1880s) overtures may not be great music, but they do provide major insights into the development of Dukas’ personal style. Indeed, if you compare them to the few surviving works that we know, you would never guess the identity of the composer.

Although called “overtures”, these are in fact symphonic poems of substantial length (16 and 22 minutes, respectively). Goetz de Berlichingen, after Goethe, is rather noisy, thickly scored, and relentlessly four-square. It’s almost a Wagner parody. King Lear has far more contrast and nuance, as well as a surfeit of chromatic harmony that creates lots of gloomy atmosphere. As I said, neither work is a masterpiece, but they show talent. It was fun to hear them and it’s nice to have them available, particularly in these unquestionably committed performances. It may be that greater familiarity with the scores would have permitted more variety in terms of dynamics, but the fine performance of the symphony shows that the faults here largely lie with the composer and not with the players.

Speaking of which, the Symphony in C really is a masterpiece, if a little-known one, full of memorable tunes and far more judiciously scored than the two early overtures. Conductor Fabrice Bollon does a particularly fine job keeping the music pressing forward in the agitated outer movements, letting the brass section strut its stuff in those fanfare motives that foreshadow the world of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. If the central slow movement bogs down a bit in a couple of places, it’s a minor issue within the context of the whole. As usual with SWR productions, the sonics are noteworthy for their warmth and naturalness. A very interesting release, to be sure.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Symphony: Martinon (EMI)

PAUL DUKAS - Symphony in C; King Lear Overture; Goetz de Berlichingen Overture


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