Pierre Wissmer is certainly a very accomplished orchestrator, exploiting the full potential of a modern symphony orchestra. But the gift of melody is not his forte. I found much of his music to be steadfastly insipid, and often so unmelodious, it became little more than unpleasant background noise. I could not sit still for most of it, and found myself off dusting in another room while it went on and on.
But there were highlights. I began listening with what turned out to be by far the most enjoyable item on offer here – the delightful Divertimento (found on the 2021, 2-CD set). Deliciously scored, and more lighthearted than the rest, it reminded me of Poulenc. So did the Clarinet Concerto. But already, while it is mostly pleasant, I grew increasingly impatient with its lack of true melodic inspiration, particularly in the slow movement, which was far from gratifying. Despite some potential, the piece remains curiously unmemorable. The Guitar Concerto, however, is better. It is amiable and full of character, with a delicate scoring which suits the music just right. It is very well played here by guitarist Thibault Cauvin and the orchestra responds with an appropriate lightness of touch.
The Second Disc of this 2-fer is not terribly worthwhile. The recordings originate from 1965 and 1976 “public concert archives”. (No other information is provided.) The 3rd Piano Concerto is a really long (going on for 30 minutes), endlessly meandering and pointless hodgepodge of nothing much going nowhere. And the Ballet Suite is mostly prosaic – its excessive length (another long 30 minutes) and obstinate lack of melodiousness making it far too serious and demanding. Making matters worse, the orchestral playing is less than first-rate, with some sour brass tone and moments of less than refined playing. Despite the definitive direction of the composer himself in the ballet, the inclusion of this second disc is especially lackluster after the much more modern recording, and more accomplished orchestra, on Disc One.
On the 2022 single-disc follow-up release, matters certainly improve with regards to musical involvement. The Suisse Romande Orchestra can sight-read anything and their playing immediately impresses with its beauty of sound and ease of execution. The opening Symphonic Poem (The Child and the Rose) is pleasant enough. It is reminiscent of Roussel but lacks his story-telling prowess and the constructive building of momentum and excitement. It just does what it does and can go no further. Much the same can be said of the 3rd Violin Concerto; it isn’t unpleasant (and is certainly well-played here) but just doesn’t really get anywhere. And the lack of a true melody seriously inhibits enjoyment.
The concluding symphonic triptyque, Clamavi, is similar to the ballet suite on the first set – unmelodious, serious and lasting too long. I had had enough at this point and didn’t try the Oboe Concerto, which typically isn’t something I would especially look forward to in the best of circumstances.
The Claves Records production is first rate on both collections, with informative booklets, highly attractive cover art, and very good recorded sound (other than the disc of “historic archives”). They have taken Pierre Wissmer into the fold, with several discs devoted to him, giving this composer a real chance at making a go of it. Alas, despite good soloists and recorded sound, there just wasn’t enough here that I would be compelled to listen to again, and more than enough to prevent me from wanting to explore this composer further.