RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
‘The enthusiasm Wilson elicits from his orchestra is apparent on every track , though what really impresses is the finesse’
Tim Ashley applauds a thrilling album of French orchestral works from John Wilson and his newly re-formed orchestra, the Sinfonia of London
‘Escales’ ‘French Orchestral Works’ Chabrier España Debussy Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune Duruflé Trois Danses, Op 6 Ibert Escales … Massenet Thaïs – Méditation Ravel Rapsodie espagnole Saint‑Saëns Le rouet d’Omphale, Op 31 Sinfonia of London / John Wilson Chandos F Í CHSA5252 (79’ • DDD/DSD)
‘Let’s hope it’s not a one-off’, wrote Richard Bratby at the close of his review (10/19) of John Wilson’s recording of Korngold’s Symphony in F, with the Sinfonia of London, which takes it name from the much-admired 1950s recording orchestra, and which Wilson, long keen on its revival, effectively re-founded in 2018, hand-picking its members from among the UK’s best musicians. Those concerned that it genuinely might be a ‘oneoff’ can indeed relax, given that we now have the first of its successors in the form of this exhilarating, if very different disc of French orchestral music, familiar or otherwise, from either side of the turn of the 20th century.
The programme is beautifully put together, so that we not only get a coherent overview of the period but seem to hear each piece refracted through its companions. Taking its title from Ibert’s impressions of his lengthy honeymoon trip to Italy, Tunisia and Spain, ‘Escales’ means ‘ports of call’, and the emphasis falls squarely on the influence of the exotic on the fin de siècle French imagination. The attraction embraced not only Spain and North Africa (Massenet’s Thaïs, represented here by the famous ‘Méditation’, is set in Alexandria), but also classical Greece (the juxtaposition of Debussy’s Faune with Saint-Saëns’s Le rouet
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d’Omphale is telling in this context) and even Provence, in the energetic ‘Tambourin’ that brings Duruflé’s Trois Danses of 1932 to their close.
The inclusion of España and Faune, strategically placed at the disc’s opening and midpoint respectively, inevitably stresses the seminal influence of each. Both Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole and Ibert’s evocation of PHO T O G R A P H Y
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6 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2020