In some ways, Jules Massenet is a slightly sad musical figure. Not forward-looking enough to suggest a bridge between the two centuries he lived in--like Gabriel Faure or Paul Dukas--not potent enough to be one of Romantic music's heavy hitters, he inhabits a world of shadowy reputation a little better than that of his contemporary Edouard Lalo by virtue of the fact that people still listen to some of his perfumed operas, especially Manon and Werther. And speaking of perfume--while Massenet specialized in the painting of exotic scenes, Debussy left him far in the dust, as did for that matter the often-maligned Saint-Saens, whose Bacchanale, for example, outstrips all of the faux orientalisms in Herodiade.
Now that I've dispatched my duties as dry-eyed critic, I'm here to say that all the music on this disc is unfailingly attractive and entertaining, even if it doesn't storm the heavens. Even the unnamed Suite No. 1, which is a little more "academic" than the others, is well crafted and very pretty, though with a bit less profile. And the orchestration is colorful and expert throughout. I doubt any of the melodies or orchestral effects will stick with you, but you'll be very happy while you're giving this disc a spin.
Conductor and orchestra do this music full justice. M. Ossonce specializes in this sort of out-of-the-way fare from the late Romantic era in France (I've enjoyed his work in Alberic Magnard symphonies), and he keeps the pace sprightly, the colors bright and clean a la francais, as they should be. Naxos' engineers do more of the good work they seem inclined to do in the South Seas. On balance, a good disc for late-night listening while catching up on your reading.