Roussel … Symphony No.2 / Pour une fête de printemps / Suite in F … RSNO/Denève

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Roussel
Symphony No.2
Pour une fête de printemps
Suite in F

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Stéphane Denève

Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow on 2-4 May 2006 (Suite in F) and 30 May-1 June 2007


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: June 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.570529
Duration: 69 minutes

If Albert Roussel’s Second Symphony (first heard in Paris in 1922 conducted by Serge Koussevitzky) hasn’t established itself in the repertoire, it is not through any lack of quality or personality. It is in fact a remarkably accomplished and individual work, one that compels on the deepest level and fascinates in its complexity and ambition.

The first movement is at times a bleak utterance, the slow unveiling of dense polyphony giving way to and alternating with faster, rhythmically chiselled material, the latter in terms of the composer’s stylistic development pointing the way to the later two symphonies and the ballet-score Bacchus et Ariane. The second movement is lighter and breezier, but – as for the course of the symphony as a whole – there are darker currents at work; and the finale (on a similarly large scale to the first movement) continues the brooding contemplation and contrasts, music that rails and retreats, the work ending as it begun but now with a sense of disillusioned closure.

Perhaps given its breadth and – for all the divergences – Roussel’s very singular utterance should remain an occasional piece to explore. Stéphane Denève and his orchestra are persuasive advocates for a puzzling if rewarding work.

Following on the disc is Pour une fête de printemps, an atmospheric and vivacious piece (somewhat Impressionistic) not without ardour and danger; while Suite in F – another Roussel creation that Koussevitzky championed (this time in Boston) – is music leaning towards the neo-classical in its inspiration and clarity of thought. Denève leads a particularly lucid account of the outer movements (spiky in the first, playful in the last) and soulful and shadowy in the central ‘Sarabande’.

Continuing its Roussel project for Naxos, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Stéphane Denève do all the music here proud – and the recorded sound is good – which ensures keen anticipation of the remaining volumes.

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