Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841 – 1894)
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902 – 1986)
Trois Danses, Op.6 (1932) [21:15]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
Le Rouet d’Omphale
in A, Op.31 (1871) [7:26]
Achille-Claude DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918)
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Jacques IBERT (1890 – 1962)
Escales (1922) [14:15]
Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912)
from ‘Thaïs’ (1894) [5:34]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)
Adam Walker (flute), Juliana Koch (oboe)
Sinfonia of London/John Wilson
rec. Church of S. Augustine, Kilburn, London; 6 and 7 September 2019 (Trois
Danses, I and III) and 16 – 18 January 2019 (other works)
Reviewed as lossless press preview.
CHANDOS CHSA5252 SACD
Having caught our attention big-time with his recordings of music from the
musicals, John Wilson has been branching out into other territory. Among
his recent releases, it was almost inevitable that he would make a very good fist
of the music of Eric Coates – I’m looking forward to more of the same.
(CHAN20036: Recommended –
review). Less predictable, but just as fine, was his recording of the more
serious side of Erich Korngold that put to bed once and for all the old
chestnut about his music being ‘more corn than gold’ (CHSA5220: Recording
of the Month –
Much of the music on the new recording falls into the more popular
category, though some of the pieces crop up less often than they did once.
Some of it, however, is more thoughtful. Predictably, España makes a
rousing start to this collection and the Rapsodie Espagnole an
equally colourful conclusion. The orchestral version of the Duruflé would
seem a less obvious success, especially by comparison with William Whitehead
(organ) who performs Danse lente on another fine Chandos album, of
music by Alain and Duruflé (CHAN10315 –
DL Roundup May 2009).
In fact, the Trois danses sound even more colourful in orchestral
guise than on the organ; significantly, the coupling for Marie-Claire
Alain’s highly regarded recording of the Poulenc Organ Concerto comes with the orchestral
not the organ version of the Danses,
performed by her accompanists in the concerto, the Bamberg Symphony
Orchestra, with Jean-Jacques Kantorow (Warner Apex 2564619122, with Duruflé Prélude et fugue sur le nom d’Alain –
review). The orchestration of the final piece, Tambourin, is especially
apt. There doesn’t seem to be a current recording of this piece on the
organ, but Kantorow’s orchestral recording sets the benchmark high.
The music needs to move at a goodly pace, but not so fast as to make too little of
the smoochy passages, and both Kantorow and Wilson get it just right. In
fact, there’s as little to choose between them interpretatively as there is
between their timings – just three seconds apart. The Apex is now download
only, more expensive than when it was a super-budget CD, and the sound
can’t quite match the quality of the new Chandos, which is available on
SACD and as a 24-bit download in addition to the (very good) 16-bit
lossless version which I received for review.
The Apex is well worth obtaining; even though it costs almost as much in
lossless sound as the Chandos, it’s one of the best recordings of the
Poulenc, but there are some fine alternatives for those looking to obtain
that work. And though Wilson and Kantorow are both very good in the
Duruflé, overall there’s an extra pulse of energy in the new recording that
makes this the version to have.
The Duruflé, given a new lease of life, and the title piece offer the main
reasons for buying the new recording. Don’t expect Escales (ports of
call) to sound anything like Ibert’s best-known work, Divertissement. Chandos already had a recording of both, with Neeme Järvi and the OSR on
an all-Ibert collection which received a welcome in these pages (CHSA5168 –
review). Munch’s Boston recording on which this work first enchanted me is now
wrapped up in an 86-CD whopper set; it’s download only if you want it
separately, with the Saint-Saëns ‘Organ’ Symphony and Debussy La Mer. That’s rather expensive (09026615002: around £12 in lossless), but for
much the same price the same recording of Escales is also available on a
4¾-hour Sony compilation Escales symphoniques françaises
(G010003457484G: Milhaud, Ibert, Koechlin, Dukas, Saint-Saëns, D’Indy,
Schmitt and Honegger, conducted by Munch (mainly), Dessay, Boulez, Mercier,
Bernstein and Judd).
The other benchmark for Ibert, from the Montréal Symphony Orchestra and
Charles Dutoit is also download-only (Decca 4403322, around £11 in lossless
sound). I re-made the acquaintance of that and the Munch, both colourful
accounts, courtesy of Naxos Music Library –
Both are very fine, the only significant difference being Dutoit’s
noticeably faster tempo for the third port, Valencia; Wilson comes closer
to Dutoit than to Munch here, with Järvi fastest of all.
Dutoit fairly bubbles with excitement right from the start of Valencia and the recording sounds good, even as streamed at 320kb/s.
That album is especially valuable for the inclusion of some works even
less well-known than Escales – all those in need of some cheerful
music in idiomatic performances should at least stream this if possible.
Fine as Dutoit is, however, Wilson matches him for exoticism in Tunis-Nefta and for liveliness in Valencia.
Le rouet d’Omphale has now had a few more spins to its credit than when I first made its
acquaintance on a Decca LP of French music from the PCO, LSO and Jean
Martinon which incidentally also first introduced me to Ibert’s Divertissement (4783188, download only). The official download is
expensive at over £11, but there is an unofficial version with the cover of
the Decca Eclipse LP which you choose at your peril. Wilson takes about the
same time as Martinon and Dutoit (Decca Ovation 4250212, an all-Saint-Saëns
collection with the RPO and Philharmonia), but his wheel spins rather more
gently – this was, after all, Heracles-Hercules in his least heroic labour,
in servitude for a year to the semi-deity Omphale.
Neeme Järvi on another Chandos recording of Saint-Saëns is, surprisingly,
slightly more leisurely still (CHSA5104). That recording met with a mixed
myself: DM and I liked it, BR had reservations. The choice is between
all-Saint-Saëns and the new Chandos with its greater selection of
composers. Either would be very welcome on my Desert Island; push me to choose
just one and it would be the new recording, even though I heard it only in
CD-quality sound and the Järvi in superior 24-bit.
Wilson’s account of Chabrier’s España makes the pop-song version of
the 1950s seem a very pale imitation and his Faune’s afternoon is as
hot and sultry as any, including my benchmark from Serge Baudo and the
Czech Philharmonic (Supraphon SU3478-2, with Images, Jeux, Danse sacrée at danse profane: download or stream only).
Incidentally, the Baudo is well worth £3.99 of your hard-earned money from
though it now lacks the coupling of Première rapsodie which
accompanied Faune, Jeux and Images on an earlier
Supraphon Gems release – that really was the gem of that now defunct
line with most conductors, Wilson takes a little over nine minutes, making
his version superior to Haitink, whose extra two minutes make his a very
lazy afternoon indeed, though the rest of his all-Debussy twofer is very
good (Decca Duo 4387422).
A collection such as this used to be popular, especially in the hands of
Thomas Beecham, who dubbed them his lollipops; the Thaïs Meditation
and España were two such pieces. Nobody could quite equal what Beecham
used to achieve, but John Wilson is about as close as you get these days to his
I’ve mentioned that I received the download in 16-bit CD quality and it is
very good. In fact, though audiophiles will probably be willing to pay the
extra for 24-bit, on this occasion they may be happy to stay with the less
expensive option. This is another very enjoyable and highly successful offering
from the team of Wilson and the Sinfonia of London. More, please – and more Coates to match that earlier
Stephen Barber ~