Subtitled "Twentieth Century Entertainments," Essay's French Dressing is the second release in a series, the Essay Concert Collection. These are live recordings by the Philharmonia Virtuosi under the group's founder and conductor Richard Kapp. Regrettably, the Philharmonia Virtuosi has disbanded due to the ill health of Kapp, who nonetheless had the foresight to record these concerts in digital sound for prospective release. Judging from the slate of forthcoming releases, it is clear that the concert programs by the Philharmonia Virtuosi are similar to the group's recorded work in that much of repertoire represents "the road less traveled," although Kapp is fond of placing more obscure pieces within the context of related, better-known music so that they do not seem isolated and remote. In French Dressing the shadowy figure whose work is programmed alongside his more renowned peers is conductor Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht who, in addition to being regarded as a key interpreter of French Impressionist music, was a significant composer of the era whose work is little recognized.
Inghelbrecht's Third Suite from La Nursery, composed in 1905-1911 but not orchestrated by him until the 1920s, is colored by Impressionist tints but formally relates to the milieu of Saint-Saëns. Inghelbrecht's ballet music for La métamorphose d'Ève (1928) is diaphanous, transparent, and in parts just achingly beautiful; although clearly conceived in the seam of French Impressionism, it is stylistically quite unlike Debussy and Ravel, perhaps more like Charles Koechlin except that the music is more understated in texture and less experimental in style. This ballet also contains a quirky section built from ragtime-like figures and bits of Bachian counterpoint. These are appealing and very well crafted works, and their neglect is bewildering.
Of the familiar pieces, Milhaud's La création du Monde is given a performance that is idiomatic, loose, and jazzy. Poulenc's Aubade is played with power and panache by pianist Claudia Hoca, and Ibert's dry and witty Divertissement sparkles like a fine French champagne. Unfortunately, French Dressing does not identify when and where the recording was made, but if recorded all at one time, it was made in an acoustically very friendly room that provides an almost ideal ambience for an in-concert recording. The audience is mostly very quiet, except in the Milhaud, where some customary hacking and coughing is apparent. Thankfully, applause is limited to very brief snippets at the end of works and fades quickly.