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  Founder: Len Mullenger
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Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Symphony No. 2 Op. 23 (1920-22) [39.55]
Festin de L'Araignée Op. 17 (1912) [31.56]
Orchestre National de L'ORTF/Jean Martinon
rec. 1968, Paris. ADD
ERATO DISQUES 25654 60577-2 [71.44]



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Roussel's music occupies a prominent place in the Erato catalogue. These recordings are old and much-reissued ‘friends’ although this version of the Symphony is perhaps less familiar having been rather supplanted when, in the early 1980s, Erato recorded all four Roussel symphonies with Charles Dutoit.

This disc, and a series of others at bargain price, have been issued as a celebration of the years since the founding of the Erato Disques company in 1953.

The two works offer a strong contrast. The years between were occupied by a devastating war conducted on French soil and at hugely momentous cost. Roussel found himself at odds with the impressionistic music he had written before 1914 and adopted a more objective style. Roussel the pupil of D'Indy and the admirer of Debussy is evident in the Festin. The Symphony No. 2 however marks a strong move away from the ecstatic nature-romance of the First Symphony with all its redolence of d'Indy, Dukas and early Schmitt. Roussel is now more in touch with de Falla although steering well clear of the whirlpool of neo-classicism. Here he pitches towards the modernism of the times from Mossolov, Bartók and Markevitch. This major piece is not the work of a composer eager to please. His stance is subdued and fearful (listen to the Breughel visions suggested at 2.53 in the final third movement). Roussel spoke of this music describing the trajectory of a life - 1. the joyful illusions of youth; 2. profound impressions of maturity; 3. the pain, bitterness and final peace when death separates us from life's passions. The Symphony ends in the most impressively sustained calm - as does the Festin ballet.

Notewriter François Laurent mentions Jean Martinon as a kindred spirit of Roussel's and that the philosophical schema of the Second Symphony is also reflected in Martinon's own Fourth Symphony, Altitudes. In addition I would add that there are parallels in the four symphonies of Marcel Landowski once recorded on Erato as part of a complete Landowski Edition.

 

Festin de L'Araignée (The Spider's Banquet) ballet was written in three months at the commission of Jacques Rouché to a scenario by Gilbert de Voisins. It was premiered on 3 April 1913 under the conductor-composer-arranger Gabriel Grovlez. This is a work in which Roussel's romantic exemplars (D'Indy and Dukas) meet Debussy and Ravel - the ecstatic impressionists. The work has much the same tender, reflective, delicate, lively qualities and harmonic flavour as Ravel's Ma Mère l'Oye and Daphnis et Chloé. The funeral march at 29.07 is done with delicate yet ponderous tread - magically handled by Martinon with a sense of vulnerable wonder. This is a work not as consistently enchanted and enchanting as Ma Mère l'Oye but sure to please that work's many admirers.

The story of Festin is set in a garden and is concerned with the insect life - its tragedies and joys. A butterfly caught in the spider's web dies and is carried off by the arachnid. A fallen apple startles the spider. Worms and mantises fight over the fruity prize. A passing mayfly, having enjoyed its transient heyday, falls to its death. The spider is ready to tuck in to the butterfly corpse but is killed by one of the mantises. The insects give a funeral to the mayfly then gradually disperse as night falls in the garden.

The recording of Festin is exceptionally clear yet resonant - the best of the Martinon-Roussels reissued by Erato. There is some passing distortion (at 8.17 in the first movement of the Symphony) completely absent from the companion Roussel disc (Aeneas and Bacchus - also reviewed here).

It is a pity again, exactly as happened with the other Roussel disc (Aeneas and Bacchus), that Warners have not separately banded the episodes in the ballet. The disc is in five tracks: one for each of the movements of the symphony and a single half hour track for the ballet.

The notes by François Laurent are succinct and there is an admirably fluent translation into English by Adrian Shaw.

Momentary distortion aside these are faithful and enjoyable recordings and offer the wary newcomer to Roussel a chance to try music that always seems to occupy the periphery. This selection has the attraction of showcasing Roussel the nature impressionist as well as Roussel's new objectivity.

Rob Barnett



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