When I reviewed Stéphane Denève’s disc containing the Fourth
Symphony, I thought he had concluded his Roussel cycle, since
he had recorded all of the symphonies. I wondered at the time,
though, because of his recording of Bacchus et Ariane
accompanying the recording of the Third Symphony. The answer
is here. This would seem to be the final recording in Denève’s
Roussel series and it maintains the high standards set in the
Le festin de l’araignée, translated here as The
Spider’s Banquet (I have usually seen it as The Spider’s
Feast), is the composer’s “other” ballet. It has often
taken a back seat to Bacchus et Ariane which comes
from later in Roussel’s career and is more typical of his mature,
neo-classical style. The Spider’s Banquet is usually
thought of as one of his “impressionistic” works, looking backwards
to Debussy, but nonetheless has attractions equal to those of
its more famous successor. I compared Denève’s recording with
one by the BBC Philharmonic under Yan Pascal Tortelier on Chandos
CHAN9494 (that also includes Bacchus et Ariane) and
found the contrasting interpretations rather enlightening. Whereas
Tortelier is softer focused and blended — indeed more “impressionistic”
- Denève paints his Spider’s Banquet in bolder and
brighter colors that look forward to Roussel’s later period.
Both are convincing, but I must say I have gained a greater
appreciation of the score from Denève. The ballet now seems
to me to be every bit as good as Bacchus et Ariane.
The various entomological dances and scenes are characterized
very well by the whole orchestra, but special praise is due
the to woodwinds — above all the wonderful flute playing.
Accompanying the ballet is a rarity: two suites Roussel compiled
from his opera-ballet, Padmâvatî, music that was inspired
by the composer’s visit to India. The suites are quite colorful
and contain more than a little Eastern exoticism, though the
music is pure Roussel through and through. Again the superb
flute deserves a mention here. I don’t think, based on the orchestral
excerpts here, however, that the composer’s inspiration was
at the same high level as in the two ballets or the later symphonies.
It is certainly pleasant enough, but with the disc’s rather
short timing some vocal selections from the score might have
enhanced its appeal. Nonetheless, for anyone collecting the
series this recording of The Spider’s Feast alone would
make it a worthy acquisition. If your primary interest is in
the two major ballets, Tortelier’s accounts on Chandos still
have much to commend them.
As with the other discs in this Roussel series, Richard Whitehouse
provides the detailed and well-written notes. The cover art,
Victor Hugo’s Vianden through a Spider’s Web, further
adds to the attractions of the CD.
See also review
by Brian Reinhart