Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

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

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

David Bratman
San Francisco Classical Voice, March 2012

ROUSSEL, A.: Festin de l’araignee (Le) / Padmavati Suites Nos. 1 and 2 (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Deneve) 8.572243
ROUSSEL, A.: Symphony No. 4 / Rapsodie Flamande / Petite Suite / Sinfonietta (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Deneve) 8.572135

Le Festin de l’araignée (The spider’s banquet, or The spider’s feast) is a ballet written in 1912 depicting the titular spider and its various insect prey. On this recording, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by its music director, Stéphane Denève, performs the complete half-hour ballet, rather than the 15-minute suite more commonly heard. The garden setting is depicted with lush, picturesque scenery in rich Impressionist harmony. Scene-setting alternates with dances or marches depicting the insects. The ants bustle on with good humor, the butterfly flutters in a manner reminiscent of Respighi’s Birds, and the mayfly dances in a lively triple time that’s the only traditionally balletic moment in the piece. A slightly lurid moment arrives as the spider devours the butterfly, and there’s harmonically ornate, dark funeral music for the mayfly.

Tracking is tightly connected to the individual scenes—there are 12 tracks for this one work alone—allowing the listener to follow the scenario with fair confidence. The music, apart from a couple of brief breaks, is continuous.

The scoring is always colorful and individual, with prominent parts for the winds and harp. The strings get a chance to vanish off the top of a high rising figure, and emit a few other ghostly effects, as well. Overall, the sound of this ballet is a combination of a great deal of Ravel’s sensuous Daphnis et Chloé—which was completed the same year—and, thanks to the prominent oboe part, more than a touch of his Tombeau de Couperin in its perky orchestral version.

Padmâvatî…consists of two brief suites of orchestral music…The suites, each of which is continuous though divided into movements, wash between slow atmospheric music, richly orchestrated without the intense sensuousness of The Spider’s Banquet, and succinct uprisings of emotional climax. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra performs all this with sober brevity.

Less vehement and more introspective than the better-known Third, his Fourth Symphony mixes dark lyricism with carefree cheerfulness, particularly in the chipper, even joyous finale.

On the CD, the Symphony is followed by Flemish Rhapsody, employing several Renaissance-era popular tunes. The remaining three works…show that [Roussel’s] true additional orchestral talent after ballets and symphonies was as a miniaturist.

Throughout both recordings, the Royal Scots are consistently on the mark in skill of execution and dedication to the spirit of the music….it’s one of Naxos’ most winning pairings of artists and repertoire. © 2012 San Francisco Classical Voice Read complete review

Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, December 2010

This conclusion to Denève’s Roussel symphony series may well be the best of all, as it contains five works from the composer’s maturity in outstanding performances at a low cost to the consumer. I can think of no better introduction to the composer.

Grant Chu Covell
La Folia, October 2010

The impish Rapsodie flamande may be the disc’s best offering. Even for Roussel fans, the similar Petite suite, Concert and Sinfonietta will tend to coalesce despite Denève’s commendable concision.

James A. Altena
Fanfare, September 2010

Comparing his third and fourth symphonies to one another, Roussel wrote: “It reflects the same tendencies: classical construction, with no aspect of extramusical program, rather great liberty in the interpretation of form, fidelity to the tonal system, but without excluding the use of polytonality, predominance of the contrapuntal element, relatively short duration.” These words apply equally well to all five pieces on this disc, and indeed to all the works of Roussel’s fully mature neoclassical compositional style from the last dozen or so years of his life, music that the composer stated was “willed and realized for its own sake.”

The Fourth Symphony is of Haydnesque proportions in structure and length (less than 25 minutes), though not in timbre or weight. The first movement opens with a brief Lento of melancholic solo winds over sustained string chords, passing immediately into an Allegro with an energetic, even explosive, angular theme of ascending eighth notes, alternating with a more lyrical second subject at a more relaxed tempo. Marked Lento molto, the succeeding slow movement first recalls the symphony’s opening, albeit with more forward motion, culminating twice in percussion-laden climaxes at an allegretto pace that belies the formal tempo indication. There follows a brief, impish, jaunty Scherzo in triple meter, and then a sunny Allegro finale, opening with a piquant flowing theme on solo oboe and passing on to a more boisterous counter-subject on strings and percussion. The entire work, and especially the last two movements, has certain stylistic and temperamental affinities to Prokofiev, though it is a matter of a shared ethos rather than imitation or influence; Roussel’s voice is uniquely his own.

Those expecting the remaining shorter works presented here to be in a lighter, more popular vein will be somewhat surprised. Certainly the distinctive Gallic wit is present, although with Roussel it assumes a deadpan, almost laconic tenor, and there is surprising weight and earnestness as well, particularly in the slow movements. The Flemish Rhapsody (Rapsodie flamande) opens slowly in an arrestingly dark-hued, somber vein; progressively turns to a faster and more extroverted section culminating in a brief lively dance; segues into a quiet, lyrical, introspective interlude; and then reverts to the extroverted vein for its close. The Petite Suite, Concerto, and Sinfonietta all have three movements in a fast-slow-fast sequence, with all but the slow movements of the first two pieces being about three minutes in length. Each work opens with a forceful, almost pungent Allegro, followed by an Andante of almost melancholic gravity, and closing with another Allegro, this time more energetic and assertive in character. All demonstrate Roussel’s remarkable ability to pack a great deal of content into an exceedingly brief compass, though all the finales conclude rather abruptly, as if the composer had simply decided to stop speaking in midsentence.

In recent years Roussel’s symphonies have received increased attention and several recordings. This CD is very cannot go far wrong with this issue for repertoire, interpretation, or price. Recommended.

Guy Rickards
Gramophone, June 2010

An excellent disc, splendidly and idiomatically performed and a superb advertisement for composer, conductor and orchestra. Highly recommended.

Christopher Dingle
BBC Music Magazine, June 2010

The Andante, recalling Roussel’s earlier period, is utterly magical in Denève’s hands…there is beautiful playing from the RSNO.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, May 2010

This is the fourth disc in the Naxos/Denève/RSNO survey of the music of Albert Roussel. Although all four symphonies are now safely and successfully released [Symphony No 1 ‘Le poème de la forêt’, Résurrection, Le marchand de sable qui passe (8.570323), Symphony No 2, Pour une fête de printemps, Suite in F major (8.570529), Bacchus et Ariane, Symphony No 3 (8.570245), Symphony No 4, Rapsodie Flamande, Petite Suite, Sinfonietta (8.572135) the absence from this collection of both Evocation and more significantly Le Festin de l’araignée (The Spider’s Banquet) would suggest to me that we are in line for at least one more Roussel disc from this winning combination. A glance at the recording dates alone will show that this is very much a bringing together of recordings from numerous sessions over a period of three years dating back to 2006. But this should not imply for an instant any kind of rag-bag approach. In fact quite the reverse, it is a tribute to both the Naxos programmers and in particular to Denève’s artistic consistency that this disc presents such a coherent picture of Roussel’s œuvre.

I have written elsewhere that I cannot think of any other composer whose symphonies mark so clearly his linear development from Impressionistic rapture to seriously cyclic Scola Cantorum to strict Neo-Classicism. Because the Symphony No.3 represents the point on the journey where the balance between the neo-classical and lush impressionism is most finely achieved that symphony has always been the most popular of the Roussel canon. By the time he reached Symphony No.4 Roussel was looking to pare his formal and musical palette to a rigorous minimum. On a simplistic level this can be seen in the duration of his symphonies which run from 35 verdant minutes for his No.1 through a lingering 43 minutes of No.2 to the compact 25 minutes of No.3 arriving at a terse 23 minutes for No.4.

None of the works presented here are ‘rare’ and all are likely to be already present in the collections of admirers of Roussel’s work. Certainly there is stiff competition from recordings old and new. However, quite aside from the bargain price benefit of this Naxos disc there are many reasons for seriously considering these performances. Throughout this series I have been particularly impressed with the way the orchestra has moulded its sound to suit any given aspect of Roussel’s compositional world. Likewise, engineer/producer Tim Handley has provided an ideal recorded environment which helps to emphasise the style of the work in question—this is a beautifully engineered disc. Given that this disc focuses on the later, more strictly neo-classical works it should be no surprise that the RSNO play with clean-limbed athletic objectivity. I keep coming back to a mind’s-eye image of those black and white films of great crowds of people engaged in mass calisthenics! It is hugely impressive in a way that engages the head rather than the heart. But clearly that was exactly what Roussel had in mind. The sound-world he creates has moved far distant from the sensuous delights of his extraordinary opera/ballet Padmâvatî—all the more remarkable when one realizes this stylistic change occurred in little more than a decade from the 1923 premiere of the opera to the 1934 composition of the last symphony. Not that the symphony is without moments of considerable beauty; the Largo introduction to the first movement includes stunning woodwind solos over lamenting strings; I’m thinking in particular of the brief oboe solo at 1:50 into track 1. Denève has a real knack for moulding phrases and allowing them to ebb and flow without becoming becalmed. When the angular Allegro con brio of the first movement bursts in the contrast with what has come before has all the greater impact. Throughout these later works Roussel seems to prefer—certainly in the quicker movements—melodic outlines that are jagged and widely spaced. It is as if he is very deliberating rejecting any kind of lyrical flowing line that step-wise melodies would allow or imply. Bluntly put this is considerably harder to play too but the performance of the RSNO is never less than first rate—the strings in particular dispatching their parts with an impressive ease. Generally I would categorise Denève’s approach to late Roussel as being lean and muscular. Examples abound in all of the works presented here but it strikes me that I have never heard Roussel’s brass writing presented with such incisive flashing power as here. Again, the players have adapted the tone they produce superbly—this is a tight brazen edgy sound-world that I am sure is absolutely right—and very exciting to boot. There is an equally valid approach which emphasises a lighter more nonchalant style—I’m thinking here of some of the older French sourced recordings from Jean Martinon. On balance I personally prefer the Denève vision as I think it chimes in more with other contemporary music of the 1930s with motor rhythms and a certain ‘dehumanising’ mechanistic style if at the expense of some Gallic wit.

Interesting too that Roussel prefers to use diminutives in many of the titles for his later works. Hence we have here a Petite Suite, a Sinfonietta, and even a concerto for Petit Orchestre. Again this all seems to stem from the same chaste aesthetic that seeks to reject excess. Roussel is not a master orchestrator in the way that the term is applied to compatriots like Ravel or Debussy. He has a preference for blocks of timbre with a greater use of contrapuntal writing than either. Curiously, I have always found his use of percussion to be disappointingly conventional—perhaps again this was a rejection of anything too obviously flamboyant. Part of this rejection might explain the move away from the larger instrumental groups used in the symphonies and ballets to the less diverse, quasi-chamber instrumentations of his later works; the Sinfonietta here is for strings alone. Sticking out rather sore-thumb-like in the midst of this rejection of the sensuous is the second work on this disc; the Rapsodie flamande Op.56. As the title implies it is a compilation of Flemish folk tunes very much put together in the style of the nationalistic rhapsodies beloved of composers several decades earlier than its 1936 composition. The liner-notes make no reference to its origin but I cannot believe it can have been produced for anything else than a commission that for some reason could not be refused. It is by far the least interesting work here and although played to the absolute hilt—this is easily the most convincing performance I have heard of this piece—it smacks of duty rather than inspiration.

The remaining three pieces are possibly Roussel’s most perfectly achieved neo-classical works. Each is in a three movement fast-slow-fast form. The longest just breaks the thirteen minute barrier. Again Denève underlines the objectivity of the music. That being said the Petite suite opens with an Aubade [track 6] which is as buoyant and good-humoured as anything Roussel ever wrote. No gentle sunrise this, more an early morning run! Denève allows the central movements of both the Petite suite and Concert pour petit orchestre to unfold with beautifully controlled playing. Again, I found myself spellbound by the woodwind generally and the oboe especially. The disc is completed with the string Sinfonietta. Again Roussel opts for a strongly contrapuntal muscular approach. It is similar in its sound world to Honegger’s Symphony No.2 although that work was written a good seven years or so later. I like the fact that this piece has been placed last on the disc—although not the latest opus number—its use of limited tonal resources and the almost perfect formal balance of 3x3 minute movements seems to represent the ideal fusion of form and function for Roussel. Again the RSNO perform with easy precision.

As I wrote before, there is stiff competition for all of these works. Most recently I see a cycle from Christopher Eschenbach with the Orchestre de Paris on Ondine has been well received but those three discs that cover the symphonies have allowed for fewer couplings than this Naxos cycle although the Spider’s banquet is included. But for a cogently performed, superbly engineered sequence with all of the Naxos price benefits this is a bargain hard to resist. Along with the first release which included the Symphony No.3 and the marvelous Bacchus et Ariadne ballet I would suggest this is an excellent introduction to Roussel’s very particular compositional world.

Malcolm Hayes
Classic FM, May 2010

The fourth instalment of Stephane Denève’s Roussel cycle is, if anything, even better than its predecessors. The music’s idiom, at once tight reined and richly inventive, brims with opportunities for the woodwind and brass section principals which the RSNO’s classy line-up takes superbly.

David Hurwitz, March 2010

Stéphane Denève’s Roussel cycle for Naxos easily has been the finest ever recorded, and this concluding disc fully lives up to expectations. The Fourth symphony explodes with rhythmic vigor in the outer movements and captures all of the bittersweet lyricism of the slow second movement. It’s an exuberant, effortless performance of a work that probably will never receive the attention it deserves on account of its brevity (just a touch more than 20 minutes) and pungent (but never gratuitously harsh) harmonic vocabulary. The couplings are all worthwhile, and important.

The Flemish Rhapsody (Rapsodie flamande) is a virtually unknown but wonderfully tuneful, even catchy example of Roussel’s punchy late style. You’ll wonder where it’s been. The three works for chamber orchestra (the Sinfonietta is for strings only) are all cut from the same cloth as the symphony, and they are just as well played. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra sports some fine players, particularly the principal trumpet, and Denève lets them demonstrate their artistry without ever losing sight of the big formal picture in music that makes a point of its structural integrity. Great sound, great music, great performances—a great series.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2010

The disc marks the conclusion of this critically acclaimed cycle of Roussel’s symphonies from the young French conductor, Stephane Denève. Few composers instinctively captured that unique French quality of music in the early 20th century, yet in public perception he remained an outsider, never enjoying the popular success of his compatriots, Debussy and Ravel. One of many artists that the First World War profoundly effected, Roussel’s output became increasingly biting and acidic, his third period producing scores that were hard-hitting in their driving rhythms and primary colours.The Fourth was a product of that final phase, and would seem more in tune with today than any of his symphonic scores. It is also a work of dynamic extremes that Denève explores to the full, and after the Lento—the work’s most extensive movement—we have a scherzo and finale that is exciting and instantly approachable. The Sinfonietta was composed immediately before, and, as the title suggests, it is a lightweight version of his symphonic style. In the year before he died came one of his most joyous scores, the Rapsodie flamande based on five songs from the sixteenth and seventeenth century and pay homage to his Flemish ancestry. We turn the clock back to the 1920’s for one of his best-know pieces, the Petite Suite, its three movements among his most picturesque creations, while the highly attractive Concerto pour petite orchestre has a vivacious conclusion. As in earlier volumes the Royal Scottish sound more French that do today’s French orchestras, their playing both committed and with high impact in the appropriate places. Extremely good sound and fervently commended.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group