Dukas, Franck, Lazzari, Duparc, Saint-Saens The Soucerer's Apprentice Poemes symphoniques PlassonThe Sorcerer’s Apprentice

French Symphonic Poems

Dukas, Franck, Lazzari, Duparc, Saint-Saëns

Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse

Michel Plasson, conductor

EMI, 2006

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a wonderful recording for two main reasons: the first is the selected repertoire, the second is the captivating execution of the music. As for the first reason, this album collects six works by five composers, among which there are renowned ones as Henri Dukas’s L’apprenti soucier and Camille Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre and rarities as three “poèmes symphoniques” by César Franck (Le chasseur maudit) and Henri Duparc (Lenore and Aux étoiles) and a “tableau symphonique”, Sylvio Lazzari’s Effet de nuit.

The works have been chosen among the French repertoire of programmatic music of the last years of the XIX century. Three of the present works get inspiration from a German poem or ballad: L’apprenti soucier (1897), subtitled Scherzo after a ballad by Goethe, is based on a work of the German poet, Der Zauberlehrling, written exactly a century before the music; Le chausser maudit (“the accursed huntsman”, composed in 1882 and premiered in 1883) is inspired by the ballad Der wilde Jäger by Gottfried August Brüger, which tells the story of a Count who goes hunting defying the prohibition of the Sabbath; and Lenore refers to the ballad of the same title, written by Karl von Holtei after Brüger and set to music by many composers during the XIX century.

Only Lazzari’s Effet de nuit takes its subject from French literature, being inspired by a poem written by Paul Verlaine. Danse macabre does not refers to a text, but follows an old superstition according to which Death appears in the graveyard every Halloween playing a fiddle and inviting the dead to dance for him until dawn. As for Aux étoiles, it is the only surviving movement of a Poème nocturne Duparc composed in 1874.

As for the execution, it is entrusted to a skilful conductor, Michel Plasson, and to a wonderful orchestra, the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse. Plasson stresses with great acuteness the different atmospheres of these works, so that they are performed as different tableaux: in L’apprenti soucier, the music is sparkling even if it lacks some of its “magical” elements, while in Le chausser maudit the hunting scene is depicted with vividness, so that it is easy to guess the wide and open space.

Effet de nuit is conducted without anything obscure or anguishing and reflects the composer’s idea of abstraction, but, if I have to tell the truth, this feature makes the piece less impressive than the previous and the next, even if it is not conducted badly. Effet de nuit creates thus an (unintentional) contrast with Danse macabre where, if it is difficult to imagine an invincible force and a supernatural event, there is anyway the representation of an animated dance carried out with decision. The same, inner strength animates Lenore, which becomes a highly dramatic piece. Aux étoiles, at last, provides a quiet conclusion.

The best features of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice are its brilliant sound and the careful and charismatic conduction, which helps to forget about some brief moments of weakness and allows the music to express its purpose. This seems rather clear in Plasson’s conduction and maybe it is the reason why this recording is so beautiful.