François-Xavier Roth / Les Siècles

France-Espagne: Chabrier, Massenet, Ravel, Debussy

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François-Xavier Roth and his authentic period instrument orchestra, Les Siècles, are established leaders in the movement for historically informed performances, and their restored versions of 19th and 20th century works have a growing following. This 2015 live album covers Spanish-flavored pieces by French composers Emmanuel Chabrier, Jules Massenet, Maurice Ravel, and Claude Debussy, performed on vintage European instruments that were used in the years between 1882 and 1919, the time period for these works. Subtle distinctions in the woodwinds and brass are always notable in Les Siècles' performances, though because much of this music is filled with percussion instruments, used to evoke a Spanish atmosphere, the ear is drawn to the exotic sounds of castanets, tambourines, and maracas, which one assumes are numerous and quite varied in the ensemble's large collection of historic instruments. But repeated listening brings the listener closer to the varied qualities of the full orchestra, especially as it was handled by Ravel and Debussy, both masters of early modern orchestration. While their innovative writing may get lost in the attention to exoticism, Ravel's Alborada del gracioso and Debussy's Iberia are the most important works on the program and they deserve close listening for their fresh sonorities.

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