Roussel … Bacchus et Ariane / Symphony No.3 … RSNO/Denève

0 of 5 stars

Roussel
Symphony No.3 in G minor, Op.42
Bacchus et Ariane, Op.43

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Stéphane Denève

Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow on 2-4 May 2006 (Bacchus) and 17 & 18 October 2006


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: May 2007
CD No: NAXOS 8.570245
Duration: 63 minutes

The beginning of a Roussel cycle or has Naxos put its eggs into one basket by coupling his “two most successful works”? Whatever the future holds, be it the other three symphonies, The Spider’s Banquet, Suite in F – there’s some good stuff there – or nothing further, this release of two of Albert Roussel’s finest pieces can be considered a success. It’s good also to have the partnership of Stéphane Denève and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra documented; Denève has been Music Director of the RSNO since September 2005 and has been garnering enthusiastic notices for his work in Scotland.

Stéphane DenèveWith full and vivid recording, Denève and the orchestra attack with gusto the first movement of Roussel’s Third Symphony (written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra), a work that has attracted conductors such as Munch, Bernstein and Boulez. Denève brings a welcome fluidity to his handling of the work; the pulsating rhythms of the opening movement do not eschew more shapely expression and the contrasts of the Adagio are well made, especially so when the most searching aspects of the movement are thrown into touching relief. This is the longest movement; the others are concise and pithy, the third humorous and light-hearted without losing Roussel’s fondness for rhythmic off-beats; Denève is a lively guide, the music’s mercurial attractions deftly realised, while the finale, here launched attacca keeps the upbeat mood going. Roussel’s brilliant scoring is revealed with clarity and zeal – and do not the trombones make a ‘naughty’ reference to Berlioz’s ‘March to the Scaffold’? – and there’s a particularly expressive violin solo (from the RSNO’s veteran leader Edwin Paling?) before Roussel throws all his big guns at the resounding finish (although at 5’02” does an edit moves us into a slightly quicker take?).

Albert RousselRoussel (1869-1937) completed his ballet-score Bacchus and Ariadne in 1930 (the same year as the G minor Symphony); he then made two suites out of the complete work’s two parts. Naxos’s presentation implies the score is given complete and also in suite form. While there is little difference here between ‘complete’ and ‘suites’, it would have been helpful to stick with one or the other – Roussel could just have sanctioned the playing of either ‘part’ and not bothered to officiate over ‘suites’; as it is we seem to get the whole work. What is helpful is having 21 tracks (which is generous for a ballet that plays here for close on ‘only’ 38 minutes) with each one assigned a description of the action at this point.

The performance is brought off with energy and a rhythmic perspicacity that has the listener swaying; this is a performance of theatrical flair, the orchestra fired-up and Denève relishing the drama and colour of Roussel’s descriptive music, which is both true to the composer and sensuously regarding of the scenario. The gap between the two suites – as the track-listing has it – is too long and the cutting of ambience here rather loses atmosphere (more suite than complete, now), but there is plenty to compensate in the ‘pictorial’ way this score is brought to life, Denève painting pictures and emotions in cinematic terms to match Roussel’s wonderfully rich palate of sounds.

With a few reservations about presentational and production matters, the music is bound to delight newcomers, while Rousselians should find much to savour in these accounts.

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