Chabrier: España; Duruflé: Trois Danses; Saint-Saëns: Le Rouet d’Omphale; Debussy: Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune; Ibert: Escales; Massenet: Thaïs – Meditation; Ravel: Rapsodie Espagnole
Sinfonia of London/John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5252 79.05 mins
Until now John Wilson had been known to me only as a conductor of musicals (my wife and I keep his wonderful video of Oklahoma as a Christmas treat). But I’ve also heard on the grapevine that orchestral players will travel long distances to make music with him and this recording shows why. It features a collection of what Sir Thomas Beecham used to call ‘lollipops’, almost always consisting, as here, of French music, so I suppose more accurately termed ‘bonbons’. They are therefore entirely dedicated to giving pleasure. Thinking of Beecham, I played his 1939 recording of España with the LPO and was pleased to find that Wilson’s version, which a friend finds a bit on the fast side, follows Beecham in coming in at just six minutes – Chabrier does, after all, ask for Allegro con fuoco. But it’s far from being all noise, the woodwind in particular being exquisitely agile.
Bar one, the other pieces on the disc are familiar, ranging from the sensuous langour of Prelude à l’après-midi d’un faune to the brilliance of Rapsodie espagnole. The exception is Duruflé’s Trois danses of 1932. How can these lovely pieces have been left on the shelf? Through the 1930s and ’40s they were regularly given in France and in 1947 even made it as far as the Proms. Surely this recording must give them a new lease of life?
All the performances are beyond praise and superbly recorded. This is undoubtedly my best disc of the last 12 months.