Originally published on January 23

I started with Boléro (it’s the final item on this eighty-four-minute release). Steady tempo, well-taken solos, well-built crescendo (if too loud too soon) … “première recording of this edition”: antiphonal side-drums alternating, thereby relieving one player’s labour of sustaining (here) fifteen minutes. “For this recording John Wilson has meticulously restored many details of the score which have become lost through careless reading of Ravel’s intentions and through the transformation of the ballet score into a popular concert piece.” (From the booklet note.) I didn’t notice much that is different (the West-East separated drums are obvious) – and I would expect to. The very end is rather contained.

Next (for me), a complete Ma Mère l’Oye/Mother Goose (tracks two-eight; there are nineteen in total). Another “première recording of this edition”, for which there is no particular explanation given; although, this time, I did notice details of scoring that seemed ‘new’, which could just as well be Wilson’s particular reading of the familiar pages; that said, despite much sensitive playing and a fairy-tale atmosphere, this performance doesn’t quite have the suggestion that Wilson is immersed enough in this wonderful music, unlike, say, Boulez (his New York version; see below), Celibidache (several examples; Suite), Giulini (ditto), Plasson (Toulouse; Suite) or Previn (LSO). I was admiring of this Wilson version but rarely moved or transported by it, not even during the closing ‘Le Jardin féerique’.

Pavane pour une infante défunte (track ten) is nicely done though, gently expressive, and Alborada del gracioso (track nine; orchestrated from the piano cycle Miroirs) is impressively played – there are many tricky corners to negotiate, not least for the trumpeter – yet, although the languor of the music is satisfied, the conclusion is just a little gabbled (Ansermet on Decca is pristine at this point).

Finally, contrasting waltzes: the from-piano-to-orchestra Valses nobles et sentimentales (tracks eleven-eighteen) and La valse (the first track): they can make an instructive pairing if programmed together, La valse (1920) coming second, going straight from ethereal remembrances into its shadowy/sinister opening. The former is attractively brought off – buoyant, flexible and airily textured, this release’s total highlight – and the latter (darkly destructive by its conclusion, or not in this case: no pain, no gain) is fine in a showpiece sense, but its apocalyptic qualities are undersold/overlooked, if not the gaiety of Viennese high society, about to be trampled by the First World War. This is a one-sided rendition, which the contemporaneous Proms performance had signposted, http://www.colinscolumn.com/bbc-proms-2021-sinfonia-of-london-john-wilson-conducts-johann-strauss-ii-ravel-korngold-francesca-chiejina-sings-alban-bergs-seven-early-songs/, this gateway takes you to reviews of couple more SoL/Wilson records.

The recorded sound is alluring – spacious, detailed and dynamic – captured by Ralph Couzens in the sympathetic acoustic of St Augustine’s, Kilburn, mostly in August-September last year: Brian Pidgeon set the bar high in terms of production values. Chandos CHSA 5280 [SACD] is released on January 28th.


Boulez’s New York recording for CBS of Mother Goose, Feb 25, 1974 (probably my library choice):