Escales: French Orchestral Works - Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5252
Classical - Orchestral
Durufle: Trois Danses, Op. 6
Saint-Saëns: Le Rouet d'Omphale
Debussy: Prélude à l'après d'un faune
Massenet: Thaïs - Meditation
Ravel: Rapsodie espagnole
Sinfonia of London
John Wilson, conductor
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Review by Graham Williams - January 30, 2020
In the wake of their outstanding recording of generally unfamiliar works by Korngold, John Wilson and his newly reformed Sinfonia of London have, for their second release on the Chandos label, now turned to much more mainstream territory with this generous (79 min.) programme of ‘French Orchestral Works’. In times gone by this release would have been described as a ‘sonic spectacular’, and while it certainly deserves that appellation – courtesy of the superb Chandos 5.0 multi-channel recording – it has much more to offer in terms of choice of repertoire and the quality of the performances.
A glance at the titles indicates that these particular late nineteenth and early twentieth century orchestral works have been chosen to showcase the corporate virtuosity, style and enthusiasm of the Sinfonia of London as well as the talents of individual soloists within the orchestra, and they achieve this in spades. It would be fair to say that Wilson’s accounts of these pieces are characterised in general by brisk tempi and tremendous rhythmic verve. Chabrier’s ‘España’ that opens this programme is just one example of the dynamism his performances display throughout this SACD.
For this listener the presence of Maurice Duruflé’s ‘Trois Danses, Op. 6’ is without doubt a compelling reason to acquire this disc. Duruflé will be familiar to most collectors for his Requiem Op. 9, but he did write just two orchestral works of which the ‘Trois Danses’ given here is one. It consists of three contrasting sections entitled ‘Divertissement’, ‘Danse lente’ and ‘Tambourin’ lasting 21 minutes in total. The brilliant orchestration, melodic invention and sheer beauty of this music makes one puzzled as to why it is not a staple of concert hall programmes.
Saint-Saëns is represented by his brief symphonic poem, ‘Le Rouet d'Omphale, Op. 31’. Wilson’s sympathetic reading beautifully conveys the refined delicacy of the opening section and, as the music darkens ominously, he builds it to an impressively powerful climax.
As befits an orchestra comprising some of the finest UK musicians, examples of outstanding solo work abound in these performances. Adam Walker (Principal flute of the LSO) phrases the flute solo at the start of Debussy’s ‘Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune’ with beguiling refinement and the music’s languor is never overemphasised thanks to Wilson’s firm pulse. The same is true of the famous ‘Méditation’ from Massenet’s opera Thaïs. Too often this is heard in soupy sentimental versions, but here, aided by Andrew Haveron’s lovely violin playing, it is allowed to flow with an unforced grace and poise.
Ibert’s entertaining travelogue ‘Escales’ and Ravel’s ‘Rapsodie Espagnole’ are already represented on SACD – the former in a fine version by Neeme Järvi also on Chandos, but Wilson’s thrilling accounts of both these colourful and evocative works should not be missed. His fine ear for orchestral sonority illuminates many elements of the scoring in both pieces while the Sinfonia of London’s alert and incisive performances are captured with breathtaking realism.
As I have indicated earlier the recordings made by the regular Chandos team of Brian Pidgeon (producer) and Ralph Couzens (sound engineer) do full justice to Wilson’s bracing accounts of these scores. The venue of the Church of St Augustine, Kilburn provides an admirable acoustic choice, yielding a soundstage that is both wide and deep.
Enthusiastically recommended without reservations. More please!
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