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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Timpani

Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Psalm 80 for tenor, chorus and orchestra (1928) [20:24]
Fanfare pour une sacre païen - Fanfare for a pagan coronation (1921) [0:52]
Le Bardit des Francs for male chorus, brass and percussion (1926) [4:42]
Aeneas - ballet for chorus and orchestra (1935) [37:51]
Benjamin Butterfield (ten)
EuropaChorAkademie/Joshard Daus
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Bramwell Tovey
rec Luxembourg Conservatoire, May 2004. DDD
TIMPANI 1C1082 [64:04]


Rely on Timpani to deliver rare Roussel works performed with brilliance and recorded with impact.

And impact is certainly the word for the Pagan Fanfare which is given a vibrant and gritty performance. The large brass ensemble used in the Fanfare carries over into the Bardit. The choir and brass rasp out their rhythmic summons fit to wake the fallen. The barbarous side is relieved by extensive suave passages which alternate with calls to bloody action. The thoughtful choral writing is often counterpointed by a trumpet recalling the stirring nobility of Holst's setting of Dirge for Two Veterans.

Aeneas - Roussel's late choral ballet - was written for Hermann Scherchen and conducted by him at the 1935 Brussels International Exhibition. Its libretto is to words by Joseph Wetterings. Like the much more famous Bacchus et Ariane, this little known ballet addresses a classical subject. The plot tells the tale of Aeneas, founder of Rome and the survivor of Troy. Worldly distractions do nothing to alleviate Aeneas's depression. He rejects his gilded past and turns from his companions. At last freed of the baggage of his glorious past, Rome is revealed in imperial splendour. The ballet ends in an impassioned hymn to the entwined gleaming futures of Aeneas and Rome. The Greeks may have destroyed Troy but a young and indomitable Roman Empire will soon tread down the glories of Greece.

Bramwell Tovey here directs Aeneas with fervour. The only competition is the 1968 Martinon recently reissued by Warners (ERATO 25654 60576-2). Tovey jollies the ballet forward more than Martinon. He is about two minutes quicker overall. Martinon has much to commend him in Roussel but Erato did his memory few favours by reissuing the 39 minute ballet in a single track. Timpani do the right thing and band the ballet into its thirteen component scenes.

The Tovey version is brazen, dark, barbarous, pregnant with tragedy (tr. 12), alive with motoric energy, though sometimes oddly suave and even jaunty (tr. 16 in the Hymne Final) where the choral writing is concerned. Only in the final Hymn do things develop a ponderous gait but this rests more at Roussel's door. Pagan exaltation is there but the pesante tread prevents the music taking wing. The final hymn rather hobbles this substantial piece of Rousseliana.

Psalm 80's weighty choral effects speak of an Old Testament fervour. There is a Dies Irae edge to this writing. There are resonances with a work of similar dimensions and inclinations: Howard Hanson's Lament for Beowulf. While orchestrally brighter than Havergal Brian the work also recalls Brian’s Fourth Symphony Das Siegeslied (also on savage Old Testament texts - and recorded on Marco Polo). At this stage in Roussel's career his music evinces a more emotional yield. It is sung in Roussel's preferred English version. Canadian tenor Benjamin Butterfield has the sort of plaintive and imploringly needy voice that some may know from the singer Rogers Covey-Crump. Balance between orchestra and choir is well contrived when it would have been easy to allow predominance to one or the other.

With this issue Timpani sustain their reputation for fastidious excellence. The choice of works is perceptive with recording premieres in the shape of the minuscule Fanfare and the short Bardit. The other two have been in want of modern recordings for years. Here they receive their due and if Aeneas is flawed but fascinating, Psalm 80 works superbly. It can be counted in the same company as Lili Boulanger’s psalms, Florent Schmitt's even more deliriously abandoned and over the top Psalm 47, Howard Hanson's emotive Lament for Beowulf and Havergal Brian's stupendous Das Siegeslied.

Rob Barnett



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