Dukas-Schmitt – Ray Luck – Vol. 2 – CR5888


“Judging from this recital, he feels most comfortable with music requiring delicacy and restraint rather than large-scale Romantic gestures, and his program was chosen accordingly”

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Piano works by Paul Dukas and Florent Schmitt

Paul Dukas and Florent Schmitt belong to the generation that produced the renaissance of French music between 1870 and 1914. Heralded by precursors such as Saint-Saëns, Franck, Gounod and d’Indy, the blossoming of talents during this period also include Chabrier, Chausson, Debussy, Duparc, Fauré, Pierné, Magnard, Koechlin, Roussel and Ravel.

PAUL DUKAS was Florent Schmitt’s senior by five years. He was born in Paris on October 1, 1865. His mother died when he was not yet five year old. He grew up into a rather taciturn, shy, lonely and introverted individual. He started learning to play the piano when he was eight years old and became seriously interested in music only when he was fourteen years old. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire from 1880 to 1890 with Dubois (Harmony), Mathias (Piano) and Guiraud (Composition). He competed twice for the coveted Prix de Rome but only got a second prize in 1889. While at the Conservatoire he met Claude Debussy in 1885 just before the latter left for Rome (Debussy had won the Prix de Rome in 1884). Such was the natural affinity between the two young men that upon his return from Rome in 1887, Debussy renewed his friendship with Dukas and for the next five years they met regularly twice a week at each other’s place alternately.

Dukas was not a prolific composer. He allowed only a dozen works to be published in his lifetime and, shortly before his death, in Paris on May 17, 1935, he destroyed all his other works because he felt they did not meet his exacting standards. Every surviving work is a highly individual, painstakingly crafted masterpiece. Dukas wrote four works for the piano of which all but the piano sonata of 1901 are recorded here.

Variations, Interlude et Finale sur un thème de Jean-Philippe Rameau, was Dukas’ second work for piano written in 1902, immediately after the aforementioned sonata. It is dedicated to his publisher and friend, Jacques Durand. The theme is a minuet from Rameau’s Deuxième livre de clavecin (1724). The title of this minuet is Le Lardon. According to Cortot, this title alludes to the manner in which the left finger plays detached notes in between the chords played by the right hand as if it were interlarding them as a chef would of a roast meat. The theme is followed by 11 variations. While the first six are mainly melodic variations, the next four are primarily rhythmic ones. The somber, even ominous, eleventh variation serves as bridge to the interlude which is of an improvisatory nature and leads to the Finale. This is a very developed twelfth variation, half again as long as all the preceding variations, combining two motifs extracted from Rameau’s theme. Here the mastery of Dukas is impressive as he artfully combines melodic, rhythmic, dynamic, harmonic, and metrical variations to bring the work to a magnificent, apotheosis-like close.

Prélude élégiaque sur le nom de H.A.Y.D.N. was commissioned by Jules Ecorcheville, director of the review, La Revue Musicale, as part of a collection of works written as homage to Haydn (to mark the centenary of his death in 1809) and published in the supplement of the January 15, 1910 volume. The other contributing composers were Debussy, Ravel, d’Indy, Hahn and Widor. The theme uses the notes corresponding to the letters of the name: H (in German) is b, A, Y is d, D, and N is g. It begins softly with the theme in slow chords very much in the manner of Debussy’s preludes Canope or Les Danseuses de Delphes. A more agitated episode with fanfares and rapid decorative figuration follows, and the short piece ends with the soft pensive chords of the theme.

La Plainte, au loin, du faune was also a commission of La Revue Musicale for its volume in homage to Debussy published in December 1920. None of the other contributing composers, Ravel, Roussel, Schmitt, Satie, de Falla, Stravinsky, Bartok, Goossens and Malipiero, had been as close to Debussy as Dukas. It is the deeply felt mourning of a friend that Dukas expresses in this work. An ostinato knell, usually on G, tolls throughout the piece. The main motif, revolving around a plaintive minor third, is heard at the right hand. It is constantly repeated, varied and amplified until it blends at the end with the citation of Debussy’s theme of the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune. Thus, this threnody finds peace only with the evocation of the lost one.

FLORENT SCHMITT was born in Blâmont (Lorraine) on September 28, 1870. He first studied at the Nancy Conservatoire then in September 1889 was accepted at the Paris Conservatoire where he was a student of Dubois and Lavignac (Harmony), Gédalge (Fugue), Massenet and Fauré (Composition). After three failed attempts, he obtained the Prix de Rome in 1900. The following ten years were very productive: His Nuits romaines of 1901 used the piano in an orchestral manner foreshadowing Miroirs of Ravel, his Psalm XLVII (XLVI in the Vulgate) of 1906 broke a new path for religious music announcing the future works in that genre by Honegger, and Roussel, his ballet La Tragédie de Salomé of 1907/10 anticipated The Rite of Spring of Stravinsky and established the reputation of Schmitt as an innovator. One of the most important French composers of his generation, Schmitt received the Légion d’Honneur in 1931 and in 1936 was elected to the Institut de France in the seat of Dukas. He died in Paris on August 17, 1958.

Mirages, Op. 70 were composed in 1920/1 and orchestrated in 1923. The first piece, Et Pan, au fond des blés lunaires, s’accouda (the title is taken from the poem, La Tristesse de Pan by Paul Fort) was Schmitt’s contribution to the volume of La Revue Musicale in homage to Debussy. The funereal motif at its begining revolves around a single note somewhat akin to that opening the slow movement of Debussy’s string quartet. This leads to a more animated, gently rocking theme that is developed throughout the piece as the initial motif grows in intensity to an anguished cry then dies away being repeated at intervals like soft sobs. In complete contrast is the second piece, La Tragique chevauchée, based on the poem of Byron, Mazeppa. The first part, with accented rhythms and dissonant harmonies evokes the hero’s wild ride tied to his galloping steed. It is interrupted now and again by the cries of pain of the hero. The piece ends in an expression of pity and hope foreshadowing the rescue of Mazeppa by a beautiful young Cossack maiden and his ultimate glorious fate.

Hommage sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré, Op. 72 No. 2 was commissioned by Henri Prunières, editor of the review, La Revue Musicale, as part of a collection of works written as homage to Gabriel Fauré by his students and published in the supplement of the 1922 volume. The other contributors were Ravel, Enesco, Aubert, Koechlin, Ladmirault and Roger-Ducasse. The notes used to spell out Gabriel Fauré’s name are GABDBEE FAGDE. Schmitt composed a complex scherzo based on two themes using theses notes. The first theme is virtuosic, and the lyrical second theme has even a Fauréan flavor. In 1934, Schmitt orchestrated the piece, composed an orchestral work, Cippus feralis (Funeral Stele), and published both works as the diptych, In Memoriam, Op. 72.

The three pieces of Chaîne brisée, Op. 87 were first composed for piano. The first and the third were orchestrated in 1938. Stèle pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas was originally a commission of La Revue Musicale for its volume in homage to Paul Dukas of May/June 1936. The other contributing composers were de Falla, Pierné, Ropartz, Rodrigo, Krein, Messiaen, Aubin and Barraine. When Schmitt published it a year later as the first piece of this triptych, he revised and expanded it. Over an ostinato syncopated A in the left hand of the piano simulating a knell, a chordal theme rises and falls repeatedly. A second theme, freed from the repeated note grows more animated and loudly extols the glory of the deceased but the ostinato syncopated note reappears and with it a modified version of the first theme bringing the piece to its close. The Barcarolle des sept vierges begins with a soft, lyrical, undulating first theme which after an ascending scale gives way to a second theme. It develops to a loud climax after which the first theme returns and the piece ends with a quiet coda. The Branle de sortie begins with a boisterous, rhythmic dance theme. The middle section is soft and lyrical with triplet accompaniment. The rhythmic dance theme returns to bring the work to a brilliant close.

Program Notes by Nizam P. Kettaneh.

RAY LUCK studied with the distinguished French pianist and pedagogue, Yvonne Lefébure, at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris where he won First Prizes in Piano and Chamber Music, and soon after emerged prizewinner at the Geneva International Piano Competition. After graduate study with György Sebok at Indiana University he received the D.Mus degree with high distinction. He has concertised worldwide and has given master classes and adjudicated music festivals during his many travels abroad. After more than a two-decade tenure as the Charles A. Dana professor of music at Randolph College in Virginia, he was appointed professor emeritus in 2002. From his home in Saint Petersburg, Florida, he makes frequent visits to the Caribbean, in particular to the Saint Lucia School of Music where he is a visiting professor. In 1992 he was conferred the Cacique’s Crown of Honour by the Government of Guyana in recognition of his musical accomplishments.

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Review – New York Times

Ray Luck, a pianist on the faculty of the Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg, Va., made his New York debut in Alice Tully Hall on Tuesday night. A native of Guyana, Mr. Luck has studied in London, Paris and Indiana Univeristy, and has had enough performing experience to know where his talents are best applied.

Judging from this recital, he feels most comfortable with music requiring delicacy and restraint rather than large-scale Romantic gestures, and his program was chosen accordingly.

The pianist offered one of Beethoven’s more intimate sonatas (Op. 27, No. 1), Schumann’s ”Davidsbundlertanze,” Chopin’s Scherzo in E (Op. 54) and two pieces by Dukas, the Haydn Prelude and Rameau Variations. Each of these scores responded to Mr. Luck’s deft fingerwork and concern for detail, up to a point. But even music as elegantly refined as this could be more sharply profiled and presented with less emotional inhibition and a greater degree of architectural strength, particularly the Dukas Variations, which sounded rather too antiseptic and undercharacterized.

On the whole, Mr. Luck was at his most persuasive in the Schumann suite, a graceful performance with a fair amount of tender lyricism and affecting poetic touches.

Peter G. Davis

Ray Luck has performed in concert and recital in several music capitals of the world. His performances in New York’s Alice Tully Hall, in London’s Queen Elizabeth and Royal Albert Halls, in Paris’s Theatre des Champs-Elysées and other major concert venues have won public and critical acclaim. He has appeared as soloist with L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, and the City of London Sinfonia, and has collaborated with ensembles such as the New World String Quartet and the Lark Quartet in chamber music performances. In addition to concert tours which have taken him to East and West Europe, North and South America, the Caribbean, and Asia, he has been a Fulbright Senior Scholar in the Caribbean. Recently he was honored by the Government of Guyana with the Cacique’s Crown of Honor.