Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Le festin de l’araignée (Complete Ballet-Pantomime) (1912) [32:26]
Padmâvatî (Opera-Ballet in Two Acts) Suites Nos. 1 and 2 (1914-18) [22:27]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Stéphane Denève
rec. Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, UK, 4-5 October 2010. DDD
NAXOS 8.572243 [54:53]
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 earlier volumes.
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.
Denève’s accounts of Roussel ballet music maintain the high standard he set earlier.