MASSENET El Cid CHABRIER España DEBUSSY Iberia
France and French performing traditions have lain at the heart of the discs released by Les Siècles, whether the repertoire be of music by French composers (Debussy, Dukas) or by composers who happened to have their works premiered in Paris, notably Stravinsky’s Firebird and The Rite of Spring. Les Siècles and conductor François-Xavier Roth have made a point of examining the sort of sound that was prevalent in French orchestras at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries: they use instruments of the period and the strings are strung with gut. But, as is clear from those previous CDs, the resulting performances are by no means the musical equivalent of dusty museum display cases: they certainly contain things that are instructive but they also possess vitality, particularly through the silvery brilliance of the brass instruments and the golden mellowness of the woodwind.
Again, none of this would have much musical or interpretative significance were it not harnessed to such positive effect as it is by Roth. Here on this new release he and Les Siècles explore two generations of French composers’ responses to Spain with a fine blend of verve and subtlety. The recordings are taken from separate concerts in 2012, 2013 and 2014, but they form a neat package with Chabrier’s España and the suite from Massenet’s Le Cid representing the 1880s, together with Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso and Debussy’s Ibéria from the generation that followed. The Massenet distils the beneficial qualities of the orchestra’s stance, with the delicious liquid flutes and strummed strings, for instance, in the ‘Aubade’, or the gently piquant cor anglais in the ‘Madrilène’. Throughout the programme, luminous sonorities go hand in hand with pliant shaping, affirmative rhythms and lucid textures to bring a refreshing glow to familiar scores.