As the title of this album suggests, the repertoire is heavily weighted toward the French, and the one exception, a piece by an all-but-unknown British-Australian composer, has a strongly Gallic sensibility. All but two of the selections are rarities, and there are two works that have never been recorded before. Almost half of the album is devoted to two large works by Jean-Michel Damase, born in 1928. Damase's music is staunchly conservative, unabashedly romantic, and rhapsodically lyrical. At its perkiest, it has a tart jauntiness reminiscent of Prokofiev, but it's most notable for expansive, surging melodies and lush harmonies that are characteristic of big, emotionally charged mid-century film scores. His music is not simplistic, though, and his orchestration is inventive and colourful. The other large work is Charles Koechlin's rarely heard, but attractive Poème for horn and orchestra. Dukas' Villanelle and Saint-Saëns' Morceau de Concert are staples of the horn repertoire, but G.W.L. Marshall-Hall's 1905 Phantasy is recorded here for the first time.
Ben Jacks, one of the finest Australian horn players of his generation and first chair in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, plays with seamless tone ... He plays with absolute security, robust tone, and expressive warmth. Barry Tuckwell, the outstanding horn player of the second half of the 20th century, conducts Orchestra Victoria and the Queensland Orchestra in nicely nuanced performances. Melba's sound is clean and vibrant, with a good sense of presence.