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Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Symphony No. 2 Op. 23 (1920-22)
Festin de L'Araignée Op. 17 (1912)
Orchestre National de L'ORTF/Jean Martinon
Recorded 1968, Paris.
ERATO DISQUES 25654 60577-2 [71.44]


Roussel’s oeuvre is one of the more unexplored areas of the repertoire and one of the most rewarding. This reissue of Martinon’s 1968 recordings brings back to the catalogue two classics of his discography in performances not easy to supplant, even given their (relative) vintage.

The Second Symphony took two years to complete and its premiere occasioned the usual kind of indignation, pro and contra. What one now hears in it is the frequently pessimistic language it promotes, the darkening colours, hues predominantly brown, but also the sense of energy unleashed that exists both alongside and within that contrary spirit. The brooding introspection is also beset by the obsessively tart mockery of the wind and brutal mechanistic trumpets – each with their own very powerful level of emotive engagement. The second movement’s buoyant unease is interrupted by shrieking winds and baleful lower strings and an increasingly turbulent stygian drive. Moments of relaxation do arrest the increasingly taut narrative but it’s never far away. The finale strikes a kind of proto-Shostakovich note with plenty of eruptive material and some once more brutal brass interjections before a coda of relatively – the qualification is invariably necessary with Roussel – peacefulness.

Festin de L'Araignée (The Spider’s Banquet) was a ballet premiered in 1913. Taking as its theme the insect life in a garden the work is saturated in gauze-like impressionism stiffened with evocative narrative threads – evoking Debussy and Ravel. The various incidents are verdant or brassy and Roussel shows unlimited amounts of irresistible verve in depicting them. His control of melody at a slow tempo and the rhythmic aspects of the score are teeming with interest, as is the light diaphanous fragrance of his orchestration.

Notes are succinct and the tapes sound excellent with one passing exception at around 8.20 in the Symphony where something’s gone awry at a trumpet-led climax. Otherwise the Martinon-Roussel reissues from Erato continue to garner well-merited accolades.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett



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