Ravel: Orchestral Works - Wilson

Ravel: Orchestral Works - Wilson

Chandos  CHAN 5280

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

La Valse
Ma Mère l'Oye
Alborada del gracioso
Pavane pour une infante défunte
Vales nobles et sentimentales

Sinfonia of London
John Wilson

Following their second BBC Music Magazine Award (for Respighi’s Roman Trilogy) and universal praise for their first concert (at the BBC Proms in 2021), Sinfonia of London and John Wilson turn to the orchestral works of Ravel for this their sixth studio album. Not only an outstanding pianist and one of France’s greatest composers, Maurice Ravel is acclaimed as one of the greatest orchestrators of all time. His unique ability to conjure the widest possible range of colours and textures from the orchestral palette is amply demonstrated on this album.

The programme opens with La Valse, conceived as a snapshot of 1850s Vienna. The continuous sequence of waltzes becomes increasingly insistent until the sound is almost utterly overwhelming. Other ballets also feature – Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) and the notorious Boléro, both recorded here for the first time in their complete original versions. Ravel’s orchestrations of his own piano works complete the programme: Valses nobles et sentimentales, Pavane pour une infante défunte, and Alborada del gracioso, which demonstrates both Ravel’s fascination with Spanish sounds and culture and the sheer virtuosity of orchestral playing of Sinfonia of London.

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Recorded 30 August - 1 September, Church of S. Augustine, Kilburn, London

Producer: Brian Pidgeon
Engineer: Ralph Couzens
Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - January 26, 2022

John Wilson and his hand-picked Sinfonia of London, a body that has become more than just a session orchestra since their official debut appearance at the BBC Proms last year, have already demonstrated considerable affinity with the vibrant orchestral works of French composers. Their scintillating performances of Chabrier, Debussy, Ibert et al. on the collection entitled ‘Escales’ Escales: French Orchestral Works - Wilson and their more recent Dutilleux SACD Dutilleux: Le Loup - Wilson have been frequent visitors to my player. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Wilson should now devote a very generously filled (83’45”) SACD to the colourful and fastidious orchestral music of Maurice Ravel, one that once again showcases the easy virtuosity and considerable panache of his Sinfonia of London.

The longest of the six works on this disc is ‘Ma Mère l’Oye’ that started life as a piano duet before it was orchestrated by the composer. Though it is often performed as a five-movement orchestral suite Ravel added a Prélude, Danse de Rouet and four exquisite interludes when the work was refashioned as a ballet in 1912. Wilson gives us a marvellously sensitive rendition of the full ballet in which the Sinfonia of London winds excel throughout, and he elicits notably magical and hushed string playing in the work’s final section, ‘Le jardin féerique,’ that often eludes other conductors on disc.

‘Alborada del gracioso’ is performed with a wonderful combination of visceral attack and stylish sensuality (the languid bassoon solo near the start is especially atmospheric), not to mention the rhythmic acuity one expects from Wilson and these musicians. The crisp Chandos recording ensures that every detail of the composer’s writing for an extensive percussion section is crystal clear, but not over emphasised.

Ravel’s fascination with the waltz is represented here with an engaging and graciously played ‘Valses nobles et sentimentales’ of 1912, while Wilson and his orchestra convey the dark ambiguities of ‘La Valse’, composed in the aftermath and carnage of World War I with frightening intensity and riveting orchestral precision. In contrast, Wilson’s account of the ‘Pavane pour une infante défunte’ has a poised simplicity and flow that avoids any trace of sickly sentimentality that can sometimes mar this lovely piece

The ubiquitous ‘Boléro’ completes the programme, and here the liner notes inform us that ‘John Wilson has meticulously restored many details which have become lost through careless reading of Ravel’s intentions and through the transformation of the ballet score into a popular concert piece’. Whether or not these details would be noticed by many listeners is a moot point, but the antiphonal snare drums are most effective here and Wilson’s pacing is mesmeric.

As expected the Chandos engineering is excellent throughout, with the acoustic of the Church of St. Augustine, Kilburn bringing clarity, spaciousness and depth of image in equal measures to the recorded sound.

Comparisons with any of the countless other recordings of these ever popular pieces, all of which are already well represented on SACD, are superfluous and while one or more of them will be found already in the libraries of Ravel aficionados, the eloquence of Wilson’s performances – subtly nuanced in the more reflective pieces and rhythmically incisive elsewhere – are unmissable.

Another absolute winner for these artists.

Copyright © 2022 Graham Williams and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (5)

Comment by john hunter - January 26, 2022 (1 of 5)

Already ordered.
Can't wait.

Comment by Donald Cramer - January 29, 2022 (2 of 5)

Excellent review. I've been needing these works on SACD for years and this one really seems to fill the bill. Thanks!

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - February 6, 2022 (3 of 5)

Graham's review was too tempting so I downloaded the album from Chandos (FLAC 24/96 surround). I've listened to it twice now and can attest that this is a superb recording both for performance and sonics. I agree, the winds are spectacular and make the music all the more enchanting. There's more, in fact, too many instruments to name that all have their moments to engage the listener. Once you realize there is nothing distracting in the performance, you can settle in and enjoy the musical journey from beginning to end. An emotional connection is easy to make with every track. Forget what was intended. Instead, sit back and allow the music to conjure up in your imagination whatever pictures come to mind. It is that good!

Aside from the performance, I need to comment on the sonics. When I first listened to the album, I was amazed at the clarity of each instrument. It was as if I could see the performer, on stage, in their rightful position. Aside from the individual performers, the whole orchestra comes together in a wide and deep soundstage. I'm not sure how it was accomplished, but the sonics in multichannel were among the best I've ever heard in my system. All the action was up in the front. My rear surrounds had only a minor role. It didn't matter. I was completely engaged from beginning to end. ...And what a great ending with Boléro. It is a wonderful feeling to purchase music and while listening it makes you sit up and take notice.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV

Comment by breydon_music - February 19, 2022 (4 of 5)

Chandos spoil us with another Wilson SACD in April, entitled "Metamorphosen" and featuring works by Strauss, Korngold and Schreker.

Comment by hiredfox - February 20, 2022 (5 of 5)

Orchestras that have been hand picked by their founding conductors and stayed together often excel in a way that many more famous orchestras do not one suspects for rather obvious reasons of personal empathy. The longer the association lasts the better they become it seems. Notable examples in recent times have been the RNO under Pletnev & the Budapest Festival Orchestra under Fischer.

John Wilson's Sinfonia of London is relatively new but seemingly cast in the same mold even though the conductor has been around the block a few times before and remains little known internationally. Whatever, their recordings now fall into that coveted category of "must buys" for many.