Classical Music Home

The World's Leading Classical Music Group

Email Password  
Not a subscriber yet?
Keyword Search
in
 
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews



 
See latest reviews of other albums...


David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, April 2009

Has anyone ever noticed that William Walton lifted the climaxes of the first movement of his Partita for Orchestra bodily from the Prélude of Roussel's Suite in F? Granted, they aren't the two best-known pieces in the world, but the comparison really is striking. Like so much of Roussel's music, this marvelous work's neglect is a total mystery: it's an unalloyed delight that, at a scant quarter-hour, would make a perfect concert opener placed before a big concerto. The tone poem Pour une fête de printemps, title notwithstanding, is darker, very much in the same style as the exactly contemporaneous Second Symphony, though it brightens up toward the end.

This brings us to the symphony, one of the shattering masterpieces of the 20th century literature and certainly the finest piece to come out of D'Indy's Schola Cantorum group of composers. There's no way it will ever be as popular as it deserves to be. Its gloomy opening, with its shadowy string textures, foreshadows late Shostakovich, and despite having some instantly memorable tunes and one of the most glorious scherzos in the entire universe for a central movement, the work commits the ultimate sin of ending quietly. Given its emotional and technical complexity, that's the kiss of death as far as programming is concerned.

Hot on the heels of Eschenbach's recent, excellent version, Stéphane Denève adds further laurels to his splendid Roussel cycle with this equally fine performance. While adopting very similar tempos throughout, he manages an interpretation that's quite different in character from Eschenbach's: lighter in texture (partly a function of the RSNO's bright basic timbre), and above all sharper in rhythm. You can hear this at the very outset, in the way Denève keeps up the Morse code-like motive (initially in the bassoons) right through the introduction. No one quite matches Martinon in the central scherzo, but this version comes very, very close, and in particular Denève, like Eschenbach, doesn't fall into the trap of playing the movement too quickly. And as always the RNSO horn section, so critical in the first and last movements, sounds glorious. Naxos' engineering is the most natural of all in terms of balance and perspective. Crank it up and wallow in some of the most marvelous symphonic music yet composed in France.




Penguin Guide, January 2009

Stéphane Denève, Music Director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, is obviously completely at home in the music of Roussel, readily capturing the somber evocation of the Second Symphony, without making the harmonic clashes too forceful. He draws strong contrasts between the three movements, returning at the end to the introspective mood of the beginning. The plaintive feeling of the opening of the similarly arch-structured Pour une fête de printemps is well caught, and the work’s climax makes a pungent centerpiece before once again the composer returns to more peaceful nostalgia. The Suite is much more extrovert, its opening rumbustious, the central Sarabande bitter-sweet, and final Gigue again pungently boisterous. The RSNO play as if they have really lived with these scores, and the Naxos recording is excellent. A good disc for those new to the composer to find their way into his plangent harmonic world.



Hecht
American Record Guide, September 2008

Stephane Deneve’s Second Symphony brings us halfway in what I assume is another set of Roussel symphonies. I reviewed the Third with enthusiasm. Deneve’s Roussel is “big orchestra” and Anglican, but it is also stirring and exciting because of its energy, enthusiasm, and panache. Tempos are slightly slow, but they don’t feel that way. The sustained opening creates mystery, and the quicker woodwind passage that follows is smooth, if less raucous than some. The big horn entrance is somewhat blended into the texture, and when the marcato theme reappears, the string sound is big and fat. The woodwinds are effective in the lively interludes-they make the second one sound like a demonic waltz-and they are just as good in the introspective interludes. II is similar-a bit slow, not spicy so much as broad, with noticeable tenuto in the walking bass. III follows the lead of I, with Deneve again creating mystery with flow and blend…If couplings are important, Deneve gets the nod. Pour une Fete de Printemps (1921) appeared about when the Second Symphony did. It begins with woodwind solos played over Impressionist strings, but becomes more festive as befits the title. After a violin solo, the climax is reached before the opening material returns; the movement ends quietly. Roussel wrote the very different Suite in F in 1926; by that time his orchestration had became leaner and his harmonies more pungent. Deneve is as good in these works as he is in the symphony.



Adrian Corleonis
Fanfare, September 2008

Enthusiastically recommended.



Phillip Scott
Fanfare, September 2008

Denève and his Scottish forces previously released their recording of the composer’s two best-known orchestral works, the Third Symphony and the ballet Bacchus et Ariane [8.570245]—an issue distinguished enough for Fanfare’s resident Rousselian Adrian Corleonis to include in his annual Want List. Now they bring us the less user-friendly Second Symphony, coupled with two significant works from around the same time…The Second Symphony dates from the composer’s “dark” period. The longest of his symphonies, it is in three movements…The Royal Scottish National blends beautifully throughout…Denève moves the tempos along where appropriate, and achieves a genuine atmosphere of mystery in the final pages.

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.




Guy Rickards
Gramophone, July 2008

Editor's Choice

Three transitional Roussel scores, exhilaratingly played

The major work here is the Second Symphony, begun in 1919 and completed two years later. Looking Janus-like both back to the composer’s pre-war impressionism and forward to the athleticism of his music from the 1930s, the Symphony is counterpointed here by the short Pour une fête de printemps (1921), a delightful evocation of French rural life. The concluding Suite in F (1926) presents Roussel’s final manner at its most exuberant, the three neo-Baroque dance forms acting as the basis for a synthesis of intellectual rigour with maximum entertainment.

On his previous release, Stéphane Denève’s tempi in the Third Symphony steered a middle course between Dutoit (driven) and Eschenbach (cautious). Here in the Second, he proves slower that either rival, taking a touch under 43 minutes, a minute longer than Eschenbach and nearly five than Dutoit. Yet as with the Third, Denève’s pacing feels perfectly natural, allowing this complex, elusive, yet very rewarding score to breathe. And as with Eschenbach’s rival account, an ancillary gain is with the exposure of a wealth of orchestral detail. The Naxos recording, if not quite as brilliant as Ondine’s is fully up to the task.

In the Suite and Pour une fête de printemps once again Denève assumes speeds that fit the music like a glove. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra play with élan throughout, relishing the music. It would be no surprise if they were granted the freedom of Paris for this. Highly recommended.



Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, July 2008

This disc is the second installment in this enterprising label’s series of Roussel symphonies conducted by Stéphane Denève, coupled with other of his works. Welcome it is, too!

Roussel is primarily known for his Third and Fourth symphonies and his ballets Bacchus et Ariane and Le Festin de l’araignée (The Spider’s Feast). While Roussel’s First Symphony is impressionistic in nature and his last two works in the genre are much more neo-classical, the Symphony No. 2 is really a transitional work. It is more densely scored than his later works and more complex in form. It does not reveal its secrets as easily as the later symphonies. However, after a couple hearings, one recognizes this as a genuine work of the composer. As Richard Whitehouse points out in his excellent notes in the CD booklet, the symphony has never caught on in the way that some of Roussel’s other compositions have. It is certainly a darker piece than his other symphonies and leaves a powerful impression on the listener. It is well orchestrated with important parts for the brass and winds. The horn theme in the first movement (Lent) at 7:53 and 14:20 that recurs in the second movement (Modéré) on trumpet at 7:57 is particularly memorable. All three movements end quietly and contain lyrical elements in the strings. Although the finale (Très lent) begins slowly, it later introduces a rhythmic figure that is played by the woodwinds and strings. Then the horns burst forth with it and finally the whole orchestra picks it up. This serves a function similar to the horn and trumpet theme in the first two movements and lends unity to the piece, which otherwise might seem a bit discursive. The symphony ends with a nice horn solo. Denève and the orchestra play the symphony as to the manner born, for Denève’s work with the Scottish orchestra has been impressive and continues to be. He already contributed a superb account of the well known Third Symphony and Bacchus et Ariane ballet (see review). His main competition in the symphony at hand comes from the series by Christoph Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris. I have not heard that recording, but it, too, has received excellent reviews. Charles Dutoit’s recordings of all the symphonies are also highly regarded.

The other works on the CD are more than mere fillers. The first item the tone poem Pour une fête de printemps, written about the same time as the symphony, resembles the symphony in its sound, although it is not as dark as the larger work. The Suite in F represents the jovial side of the more familiar Roussel in that it was composed during his later, neo-classical period. It is in three movements (Prélude, Sarabande and Gigue) that recall earlier, Baroque forms. Nonetheless, as Whitehouse states, “its abrasive harmonies, motoric rhythms and pungent humour evince a distinctly ‘contemporary’ feel.” As in other later Roussel the orchestration here is more transparent and the construction tauter and more economical.

All three works on the disc receive superb performances and the recorded sound is also very good. If you don’t know these pieces, this is a most economical way to experience them. I can highly recommend this CD to anyone interested in Roussel or twentieth-century French orchestral music regardless of price.



Gramophone, July 2008

Conductor Stéphane Denève is working wonders with the music of Albert Roussel, here adding the Second Symphony to his excellent recording of the Third. He lets the music do the talking, as it were, never forcing the issue or feeling that Roussel needs any special “help”, and what emerges is an extremely fine work and a recording that should be played over and over again.




Julian Haylock
Classic FM, June 2008

An intoxicating programme providing an ideal opportunity for readers to investigate the most underrated composer in French musical history.



John Terauds
Toronto Star, May 2008

Stephane Denève, music director of the Scottish ensemble, and a regular guest with the Toronto Symphony, conjures magic with his baton…the more you listen the more you appreciate his art of sonic metamorphosis—be it in imperceptible modulations, or handing over melodic lines from one group of instruments to another…




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, April 2008

Has anyone ever noticed that William Walton lifted the climaxes of the first movement of his Partita for Orchestra bodily from the Prélude of Roussel’s Suite in F? Granted, they aren’t the two best-known pieces in the world, but the comparison really is striking. Like so much of Roussel’s music, this marvelous work’s neglect is a total mystery: it’s an unalloyed delight that, at a scant quarter-hour, would make a perfect concert opener placed before a big concerto. The tone poem Pour une fête de printemps, title notwithstanding, is darker, very much in the same style as the exactly contemporaneous Second Symphony, though it brightens up toward the end.

This brings us to the symphony, one of the shattering masterpieces of the 20th century literature and certainly the finest piece to come out of D’Indy’s Schola Cantorum group of composers. There’s no way it will ever be as popular as it deserves to be. Its gloomy opening, with its shadowy string textures, foreshadows late Shostakovich, and despite having some instantly memorable tunes and one of the most glorious scherzos in the entire universe for a central movement, the work commits the ultimate sin of ending quietly. Given its emotional and technical complexity, that’s the kiss of death as far as programming is concerned.

Hot on the heels of Eschenbach’s recent, excellent version, Stéphane Denève adds further laurels to his splendid Roussel cycle with this equally fine performance. While adopting very similar tempos throughout, he manages an interpretation that’s quite different in character from Eschenbach’s: lighter in texture (partly a function of the RSNO’s bright basic timbre), and above all sharper in rhythm. You can hear this at the very outset, in the way Denève keeps up the Morse code-like motive (initially in the bassoons) right through the introduction. No one quite matches Martinon in the central scherzo, but this version comes very, very close, and in particular Denève, like Eschenbach, doesn’t fall into the trap of playing the movement too quickly. And as always the RNSO horn section, so critical in the first and last movements, sounds glorious. Naxos’ engineering is the most natural of all in terms of balance and perspective. Crank it up and wallow in some of the most marvelous symphonic music yet composed in France.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2008

This is one of the most persuasive and idiomatic Roussel discs in the CD catalogue

Albert Roussel was almost 30 before he entered into full-time study as a composer, having begun his working life with a career in the navy. He was immediately placed in comparison with his compatriots Ravel and Debussy, and his music rather fell into their shadow. He was also one of the many artists whose music was emotionally and profoundly effected by the First World War, his output taking an acidic mood that did not find a ready market. It was to be his third period, when his music took on a hard-hitting mode that thrived on driving rhythms and primary colours, that his music eventually found critical acclaim. Today we can ignore musical politics in French at that time, and simply reassess the influence that Poulenc had on music of his time, finding on every count that they were positive, not least in his teaching of the next generation.The Second Symphony comes in that difficult transition between the first and second periods, and though illness would account for part of the gestation from 1919 to 1921, it does display the deepening of thought that the war had engendered. In three movements—the two outer ones being extensive—its colours are often dark and foreboding, the unease below the surface eventually erupting in a finale that opens full of aggression. I have seldom heard a performance that so precisely captures these feelings, the French conductor, Stephane Devene, an intuitive Roussel interpreter. The cold opening to Pour une fete de printemps hardlyinvokes the title, the feeling of a fete day eventually emerging before the melancholy of the opening returns to close the work. That also comes from 1921, and five years later we arrive at the final phase of his development. The Suite in F—a short three movement symphony by any other name—has those melodic ideas that quickly hang into your memory, the colours and rhythmic impetus all in place for a highly commercial score. The playing of the Royal Scottish National is a match for the best French orchestras and the sound engineering is first class. This is one of the most persuasive and idiomatic Roussel discs in the CD catalogue and I enthusiastically commend it to you.






Famous Composers Quick Link:
Bach | Beethoven | Chopin | Dowland | Handel | Haydn | Mozart | Glazunov | Schumann | R Strauss | Vivaldi
8:18:39 AM, 17 April 2014
All Naxos Historical, Naxos Classical Archives, Naxos Jazz, Folk and Rock Legends and Naxos Nostalgia titles are not available in the United States and some titles may not be available in Australia and Singapore because these countries have copyright laws that provide or may provide for terms of protection for sound recordings that differ from the rest of the world.
Copyright © 2014 Naxos Digital Services Ltd. All rights reserved.     Terms of Use     Privacy Policy
-212-
Classical Music Home
NOTICE: This site was unavailable for several hours on Saturday, June 25th 2011 due to some unexpected but essential maintenance work. We apologize for any inconvenience.