Wilson’s Faceless French Collection

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 4

Sound Quality: 9

These are without question the most characterless performances of this music available. John Wilson leads what sounds like a reading rehearsal with a group of studio musicians who can play virtually anything with the same mechanical, faceless efficiency. Tempos are uniformly swift–indeed, too fast to have any fun with the music at all. Chabrier’s España offers virtually everyone in the orchestra a chance to take a star turn–bassoon, trombones, and even the harp–but at this speed you can banish the thought.

The Debussy sounds like the Prelude to the Afternoon Nap of a Faun. Saint-Saëns’ Omphale seems to have lost her job at the spinning wheel, to be replaced by a machine. Ibert’s Escales (Ports of Call) leaves us wanting to leave as soon as possible, while Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole hasn’t a shred of mystery at the start, or fire at the conclusion. It all superficial excitement at the expense of the music’s color, textural subtlety, and atmosphere. Just about the only interesting thing on the disc is the Duruflé Three Dances–a relative rarity–but if you’re not going to milk the Meditation from Thaïs at least a little then really, what’s the point?

The engineering is vivid, revealing with merciless clarity the utter charmlessness of the entire production. Ordinarily I’m prepared to enjoy a diverse and well-chosen program like this, but when the performances are so perfunctory the entire experience becomes an unpleasantly aggravating chore. Avoid.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: ESCALES
Reference Recording: None for this coupling

Works by Chabrier, Duruflé, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, Ibert, Massenet and Ravel

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