Released April 2008. A perennial outsider in French music, Albert Roussel was the tutor of a whole generation of composers, including such diverse figures as Eric Satie and Edgard Varèse. The three works inclided here outline the transitional phase in which Roussel’s mature idiom took shape. Most important of these is the Second Symphony with its densely intricate orchestration and its wide range of expression, while Pour une fête de printemps is a symphonic poem that could be thought of as preparation for the larger work. With Suite in F, Roussel arrived at his mature style; the piece is taut and economical in design, with a distinctly ‘contemporary’ feel.
The 11-minute tone poem Pour une fête de printemps dates from 1920 and may have been originally conceived as the scherzo of the symphony. Instead, as Roussel wrote to Charles Koechlin, it became “a sort of little symphony comprising within itself the various movements: allegro, scherzo, andante, with the slow movement at its centre.” In the same letter, Roussel emphasized that the work had no pictorial or literary program; he was turning towards absolute music at this time. This fascinating piece contains echoes of the composer’s impressionistic past as well as hints of his muscular style to come. Denève leads the Scottish orchestra in a performance full of detail and vigor, which knocks out all prior competition.
The Suite in F shows the composer finally getting into his late stride. In three movements (Fast/Slow/Fast), it truly is a petite symphony, conceived for a chamber orchestra and filled with attractive neo-Classical ideas. Significantly, the movements are entitled Prelude, Sarabande, and Gigue. Denève emphasizes an appropriately Stravinskian edge to the textures, yet also finds warmth in the low central movement.
Simply, this issue is first-class, both in interpretation and execution, and is spaciously recorded, making Denève’s the bargain Roussel cycle of choice (the only low-price competition coming from Dutoit’s 1980s cycle) and potentially the best choice in any price range.
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Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Recorded at the Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, May 2006 and May 2007