Bacchus and Ariadne (Complete)
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Roussel' two most successful works, the ballet Bacchus et Ariane and Symphony No. 3 demonstrate his mature, neo-classical idiom. The Third Symphony, one of a number of workscommissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for its fiftieth anniversary season,
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This performance on the super budget Naxos label may, hopefully, bring to a wider audience the wonders of Roussel's music. And, let me say right away, vies with the best in sound and exceeds all in interpretation!
The only performances that come close to the third symphony on this disc are Berstein's and Cluytens'.
Roussel's 3rd can be described as neo-classical with a 'French flavour' and is eminently approachable. The slow music hints at the 'nature' music so well known in Debussy and and the fast outer movements have a rhythm and energy that Stravinsky would have been proud of. Both the vigour and harmony throughout this work is compelling! That Martinu was one of his students is obvious.
The rest of the programme is taken up by the most sensitive and inspiring account of Roussel's most well known work - Bacchus et Ariane - even when compared with the excellent version by Tortelier on Chandos.
Deneve's accounts of both works cries out to heard by anyone interested in great music, particularly of the first half of the twentieth century!
I can hardly wait for the other three symphonies!
Do yourself a big favour and have a listen. Rewards are waiting in abundance!
This recording has received several enthusiastic reviews, including one in Gramophone magazine. In Stephane Deneve the Royal Scottish Orchestra has a leader that obviously understands the French idiom, and leads a performance of the Third Symphony that is attentive to all the expressive requirements of the work. The pounding opening is attacked with vigor, the rhythms are sharply etched, and the dissonant outbursts that interrupt at various points in that movement are delightfully shocking. Yet Deneve gives plenty of expressive shaping (including great flexibility of tempo) and reveals oases of calm in the midst of turmoil and relentless motion. The Third has at its center a superbly conceived slow movement, a serene panorama constructed in a perfect arc. Deneve takes this music with seriousness and dignity, throwing into relief the cafe music that interrupts at the middle of the movement, and setting up an especially patient build-up to an incandescent climax. I must make mention of the concertmaster's beautiful solo contrubutions in the second and fourth movements: his mellow tone, restrained vibrato, and well-judged portamento are a throwback to the early 20th century. The ballet BACCHUS AND ARIADNE was composed around the same time as the symphony; avoiding any stereotypical "ancient" evocations (as, for example, Stravinsky's "classical Greek" ballets), it instead clothes the Greek myth in acrid harmonies and motor rhythms. A few very brief patches of ragged ensemble do not in any way detract from my hearty recommendation of this disc.
Well, as much as I like this new version by Stéphane Denève and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, I must cast my vote for the EMI which only costs a couple of dollars more for 2 CDs containing the Symphonies Nos. 2, 3 and 4, as well as one of the Bacchus Suites, the Festin de l'Araignée, and the Sinfonietta. Granted, they are older recordings but they have been very nicely remastered and sound terrific. Further, the French orchestras led by Cluytens, Prêtre and Dervaux play gorgeously throughout. I imagine that Denève and RSNO (of which he has been the music director for a couple of years now) will record more of Roussel's orchestral output but the cash outlay will be significantly more for the amount of music presented. And as far as that's concerned, I thought the sound on this new recording was just a little cloudy and with the brass sometimes drowning the strings.
Stéphane Denève knows his way around and through this brief (25 minute) symphony and is able to capitalize on all the creative aspects of the work while knitting it together in a way that eludes many conductors. The symphony is rich with melodies painted on a backdrop of some of the more original and unique percussive writing in the literature. While the spirit of the work is exhilarating, listening repeatedly to the way Denève keeps the textures clear reminds us of just how fine (and how very French!) is this 20th century masterpiece. This is a symphony AND a performance to cherish.
Denève also manages to make the better known ballet score 'Bacchus et Ariane' sound both grand and eloquent. And while his Royal Scottish National Orchestra may not be the richest sounding ensemble, it is very responsive to Denève dissection of the score. In all this is a recording very much deserving to be a part of every music lover's library - especially those who have neglected the always surprising pleasures of the music of Albert Roussel! Grady Harp, March 08
Though often described as “neo-classical” the soundworld of Roussel’s third symphony has little in common with, say, the dry neo-classicism of Stravinsky. The forms, and perhaps the shape and flow of the thematic material, are classical, but embedded in ferocious energy, exploding colors and a forward momentum that sometimes borders on the aggressive. In particular, the first movement is as energetic as any, whereas the second is passionate and profound – for a while, before it turns into light, wistful-tinged, very French, delightful reverie, though not without (after a while) some hints of darkness and a climax that is, at least in this performance, powerful as few. The scherzo is light and cheeky and delightful and the finale a deeply satisfying conclusion to a great work.
The ballet Bacchus et Ariane consists of two marvelously imaginative, colorful and inventive suites, with barely a second that is less than captivating. Many of the dances are relatively light-hearted and jaunty, but there is such emotional nuance, depth and variety (and, admittedly, an almost demonic undertone) that it doesn’t strike one as a particularly light work. In fact, the overall moods of the two suites are rather different – the first is light-filled, playful and wistful, while the second is almost daringly sensual, shimmering, glowing and wonderful.
As mentioned the performances are magnificent, whether the music is playful, sensual or brutal, and it is worth mentioning that RSNO features some superb soloists, especially in the symphony. The ballet is particularly notable for its sparkle, momentum and fiendish energy, which never threatens to jeopardize the textural clarity or precision of the performances. The recorded sound is first-rate as well, vivid, big and clear, with plenty of depth. In short, this is an absolute must, once again proving that the Naxos Roussel cycle will be at least on the level of, say, their celebrated cycle of Bax symphonies.