Friday, April 8, 2011

Debussy - Fall Of The House Of Usher, Etc - Pretre, Monte Carlo PO







Debussy never completed his operatic adaptation of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, one of two Poe projects that occupied the composer for the last fifteen years of his life. It wasn’t until 1977 that Juan Allende Blin’s reconstruction was heard. Blin managed to resurrect both the beginning and the end of Debussy’s work; as a result we have a little over twenty minutes worth of music from what would appear to have been a one-hour piece. Meagre pickings perhaps, but certainly worth hearing. Debussy was probably the ideal composer to adapt Poe’s tortured narratives; there is something in the Gallic temperament that seems to respond particularly well to the decadence and general sense of despair that characterises the author’s quasi-hallucinogenic prose. We are allFlorent Schmitt now familiar with the image of the romantic Parisian bohemians frequenting brothels and drinking Absinthe and so it should probably come as no surprise that Poe’s works were so well received in France. In this performance, Prêtre conducts with great efficiency and his native French-speaking vocal quartet is both mellifluous and insightful. Unfortunately for all involved, this still remains just a torso of what could have been a compelling drama; whilst there are copious incidental pleasures to be had it still does not really add up to a satisfying whole.

Now, that is where the couplings are important. I can describe André Caplet’s Conte Fantastique (after Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death) briefly; well-crafted, exciting and at times sounding remarkably like Bernard Herrmann’s score for Hitchcock’s Psycho - both are similarly scored - it makes for seventeen eventful minutes. Cambreling tackles the solo harp part well, but the strings of the Monte Carlo orchestra struggle with some of the higher-lying passages.

The last work on the disc is by a somewhat wide margin the most entertaining. Florent Schmitt’s approach to Poe’s poem ‘The Haunted Palace’ will come as no surprise to anyone who is at all familiar with the composer’s work. It is about as ripe as a late-romantic tone poem can get, and it proves that such an approach was ideal for conveying the neuroses of the drug and drink-addled author. The original text, handily reproduced in the booklet, is perhaps Poe’s greatest work, an absolutely chilling and stunningly crated poem, certainly on a par with ‘The Raven’. It also has one of the most iconic last stanzas in literature.-- Owen Walton



flac, covers

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