After a disappointing CD which began my year (John Wilson's redundant revisiting the music of Eric Coates with the BBC Philharmonic), I am thrilled to hear the spark of inspiration return to his music-making for these two newest releases. He's back with his own, hand-picked ensemble, with which he recorded his Copland series: the fabulous Sinfonia of London. It is also cause for celebration that Chandos has seen fit to issue these on SACD, with much improved sound over the aforementioned CD-only Coates. (And thankfully, the poor sound they produced for Lortie's Saint-Saens' Piano Concertos has been banished.)
In a recent interview with BBC Music Magazine, John Wilson commented that he loves working with the Sinfonia of London, which was established primarily for recording projects, because "they can sight-read anything!" It's refreshing to hear a conductor actually admit his orchestra is essentially sight-reading a recording project - it happens all the time, all across the world, more often than not. But here, the resultant Korngold Symphony reflects that very fact in a most positive way. It is the most spontaneous-sounding reading of it I have ever heard. The entire work bursts forth with boundless energy, joy and a rhapsodic sense of discovery. I suspect many of these musicians had never played it before, and they obviously enjoyed the experience. And make no mistake, Wilson's leadership is a wonder to behold. In particular, his perfectly chosen, rather swift tempos gather much momentum, and at last allow this music to flow free with passionate, rhapsodic, musical abandon. Frankly, after his ho-hum Coates recording, I had my doubts he could bring off this difficult symphony, especially with a studio band. But its excellence simply erases all memory of that earlier, unnecessary endeavor.
The couplings are merely that, and they are most enjoyable.
The French Collection, Escales, is mostly all dessert, and we deserve that from time to time! But we do get at least one real rarity: Maurice Durufle's Trois Danses. I had not heard this before and was astonished at how accomplished an orchestral work it is - not only in its creativity, but its magnificent orchestration (just listen to that ravishing alto saxophone solo in the final movement). With echoes of Ibert in the 2nd movement, and even more of Roussel in the 3rd, this is my new find of the year. Why isn't this piece recorded more often?
Saint-Saens's Spinning Wheel, while not exactly a rarity, is not all that often programmed, and is a real treat. The title piece (Ibert) is beautifully executed. Again, the sense of freshness, from a group which likely has never played it before, shines through - culminating in a thrilling climax.
One ideally would have wanted a little more imagination and innovation in programming the rest of this concert. But I suppose I shouldn't complain. Other selections include Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole (thrillingly played), along with the ubiquitous Debussy Faun, Chabrier Espana, and Massenet Meditation from Thais.
I am happy to report the recorded sound in both discs is absolutely splendid. The acoustics of the Church of S. Augustine, London, provide a lovely perspective, which is at once atmospheric and detailed; and climaxes expand magnificently. The slight congestion heard in some recent Chandos CDs is mercifully not present here. There really is something to be said for the DSD recording technology's superiority over PCM (for CD).
I look forward to the next Korngold installment from these forces. And there is also a disc of Respighi in the works. We should snap up each and every SACD that comes around. Their numbers are dwindling lately.