Dukas: The Sorcerer's Apprentice (SACD review)

Also, Ravel: Mother Goose; Koechlin: Les Bandar-log. Marc Albrecht, Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra. PentaTone Classics PTC 5186 336.

Many people are no doubt more familiar with L'Apprenti Sorcier (The Sorcerer's Apprentice) through Disney's 1940 animated feature Fantasia, with Mickey Mouse in the lead, than from the concert hall or record albums. But  Paul Dukas (1865-1935) wrote the piece in 1897, long before Disney used it. He wrote it as a cautionary tale about a young apprentice magician who gets into trouble trying to use too much wizardry he doesn't know how to handle. In the present recording, maestro Marc Albrecht and his Strasbourg players work up a good head of steam by the time they finish this highly programmatic music.

The centerpiece of the album, though, is Ma mere l'oye (Mother Goose) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). Ravel began Mother Goose in 1910 as a collection of five solo piano pieces, but when impresario Sergei Diaghilev asked him to write a new ballet, Ravel jumped at the chance of orchestrating his piano pieces and adding some connecting material, by the next year turning it into the ballet we know and love.

By the time Ravel completed Mother Goose, he had written seven major parts, each involving a beloved fairy tale: "Prelude," "The Dance of the Spinning Wheel," "The Pavane of Sleeping Beauty in the Woods," "Beauty and the Beast," "Tom Thumb," "Laideronett, Empress of the Pagodas," and "The Enchanted Garden." Although there are a number of good recordings of the ballet, including my favorites from Jean Martinon (EMI), Charles Dutoit (Decca), and Geoffrey Simon (Cala), Albrecht's rendition is most welcome, if only because Pentatone did such a good job recording it. But beyond the good sound, Albrecht does a fine job provocatively introducing and creatively developing each section, adding charm and excitement where necessary in a mostly dreamy, pastel-tinted performance. He handles the two concluding segments particularly well: "The Empress of the Pagodas" and "The Enchanted Garden," which he positively drenches in color and atmosphere.

The final work on the disc is Les Bandar-log, a portion of The Jungle Book by Charles Koechlin (1867-1950), inspired by Rudyard Kipling's celebrated novel. Here, we get the part where Mowgli has an adventure with a group of rascally monkeys ("bandar-log" is Hindi for monkey, and Kipling sets The Jungle Book in India where they speak Hindi). Although Albrecht takes his time with the introductory elements of the piece, he builds the music slowly, smoothly, and deliberately, providing a suitable mood for the later hijinks, with plenty of dramatic pauses, the silences themselves almost as effective as the sounds of the music. What's more the PentaTone audio engineers deliver some impressive bass support. Taking a cue from Prokofiev in Peter and the Wolf, Koechlin uses different instruments of the orchestra to represent different animals, and like Dukas's piece that opens the album, Les Bandar-log is playful and happy, bringing great delight to anyone listening.

PentaTone recorded the music on this 2010 release in late 2008 and present it on a hybrid Super Analogue Compact Disc that a person can play back in multichannel or stereo on an SACD player or in stereo only on a regular CD player. I played back the stereo layers on both a regular and an SACD player but not in multichannel. I noticed a slightly brighter sound from the SACD player, but that may have more a result of the player than the disc transfer. In any case, the sound is quite good, with wide dynamics; quick transients; strong, taut percussive effects; and more than adequate stage depth. The engineers did mike the proceedings fairly closely, with a degree of multi-miking evident, but it results in a clean, clear midrange transparency. In all, the music is fun, the performances colorful, and the sound topflight.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa