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COMPOSERS: Chabrier,Debussy,Massenet,Ravel
LABELS: Musicales Actes Sud
ALBUM TITLE: France-Espagne
WORKS: Works by Chabrier, Massenet, Ravel and Debussy
PERFORMER: Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth


‘…above all, the energy and the unbelievable verve’: these attributes are singled out by François-Xavier Roth from among those of the period instruments used by this orchestra, mostly identified in the booklet. The faster movements on the disc do indeed bubble over with energy, not least in Massenet’s wonderful ballet music for Le cid which shows him at his absolute best. But as well as energy, there’s a wealth of colour, especially in the wind instruments – in Massenet’s ‘Madrilène’, the 1897 François Lorée cor anglais is simply spellbinding. And then there’s the clarity of the textures, made possible by the lack of ‘fat’ in any of the instruments, notably by gut strings played without vibrato. As a result we can enjoy many of the subtle touches of percussion favoured by all four composers represented here and, in Ibéria, marvel at the intricacies of Debussy’s counterpoint (not generally felt to be his thing).


These are all live performances, so I suppose one has to accept the ‘bravo’ hard on the heels of Ravel’s Alborada, but I’m less forgiving about the horrid C natural harmonic in the first chord after the bassoon solo, instead of the correct C sharp; and the opening tempo for the first movement of Ibéria is well below the metronome mark. Roth claims that period instruments dictate the right speeds, but for me this is a crucial place where energy and verve are lacking. Roger Nichols