French conductors tackle Roussel with three French orchestras.
Cluytens (1905-1967) undertakes Symphonies 3 and 4 as well
as the Sinfonietta. Symphony No 2 falls to Pierre
Dervaux (1917-1992) and Prêtre (b. 1924) deals with Bacchus
et Ariane and Le Festin de L'Araignée.
Some of these recordings are now over forty years old so
conjoining them in an EMI Gemini
twofer means that the middle-aged jostles with the relative
youth (1981 vintage) of the Dervaux recording and
the positively adolescent Prêtre (1984).
It’s appropriate then to start with Dervaux’s Second Symphony.
Better sounding than the 1968 Martinon recording this takes a
broadly similar approach, though Prêtre is somewhat more relaxed
in the opening movement. Some here will miss Martinon’s decidedly
more tactile and tensile approach – he’s that much more graphic
than Prêtre – though the lightly sprung animé section is
certainly splendidly cultivated in the EMI recording. The central
movement’s Lent goes equally well with suitable vehemence
later. Low brass and martial and declamatory instincts are well
captured by the engineers. It’s not a performance that quite,
for me, displaces Martinon (Erato 25654 60577-2) though it is
highly successful and is no disappointment.
The Sinfonietta and Third and Fourth Symphonies are in the
eloquent hands of Cluytens. He’s very strong on contrastive
material in this repertoire and has a sure ear for sectional
balance. Though he sometimes moves at quite a lick it’s never
too fast for proper clarity of articulation – note the passages
for flutes in the first movement of No.3 in this respect.
The sense of lissom and serene is one that runs throughout
Cluytens’ readings of all three scores. Once past the opening
Lento of No.4 the agitated Allegro that follows is just that
- a sure study in emotive states fully realised by a conductor
in full control of every facet of the score. The climax of
the slow movement is built with inexorable power. Dynamics
are perfectly graded. Strings are warm, winds pipey and pithy.
The Sinfonietta was written for Jane Evrard’s women’s orchestra.
The refined post-Wagnerianism is allied to baroque tints
and a fine sense of string weight. Complication arises because
these three performances are also on Testament SBT 1239 where
they’re coupled with Cluytens’ recording of the Suite No.2
from Bacchus et Ariane. EMI’s twofer
has recordings of both suites, though with Prêtre
Those seeking extra thrills – and spills – will want to know
that Charles Munch’s vintage 1965 recordings of the Third
and Fourth Symphonies are on Warner Elatus 0927 46730-2.
They’re full of the most intense excitement and drama but
there are orchestral weaknesses throughout. Munch wasn’t
able to bring on board the Lamoureux orchestra in quite the
same way that Cluytens did the Orchestre de la Société des
Concerts du Conservatoire. This last was an often intransigent
and awkward beast but when it was reconciled to a conductor
it turned up for work, as here.
Bacchus et Ariane is a fine performance though
not quite so well recorded. The full sound spectrum isn’t
really embraced though the playing and direction have character
and bite and a great
deal of drama. The strings are appositely lean and the Stravinskian
inheritance is unselfconsciously evoked.
This is very much more than a Roussel starter pack. The performances
are a little variable and the recording dates very much so.
But the Cluytens-Prêtre team is formidable and allied to
the lesser known but still ardent Dervaux you have as incisive
a trio of conductors as you could wish at this price range.
Those visiting this vintage must also have Martinon and Munch
and then they really will have a quintet of conductorial
Rousselians to brag about.
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