Roussel: Symphony No. 2; Pour une fête de printemps; Suite in F

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COMPOSERS: Roussel
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Roussel
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Pour une fête de printemps; Suite in F
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Stéphane Denève
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570529

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Roussel may have been a late-starter, after serving in the French navy, but, like any composer worth his sea-salt, his career still falls into three clear periods. Having found his voice as an Impressionist, he spent the years after the First World War in aesthetic soul-searching before arriving at his own brand of neo-classicism. These are distinctions that are observed in these first two discs of what promises to be a fine survey of his orchestral music by the RSNO under Stéphane Denève. One traces the ground covered from the Second Symphony, at the start of the transitional middle period, to the establishment of Roussel’s mature style with the Suite in F, while the other presents marvellous accounts of two masterpieces from that final period, the Third Symphony and the entirety of the ballet Bacchus et Ariane. Denève and the RSNO are strong advocates for the all-too-rarely heard Second Symphony. The shaping of the tricky outer movements is masterly, with Denève maintaining a clear line in the most amorphous passages. The second movement is a remarkable creation, with the genially prancing outer sections masking a troubled heart in the centre. The chirruping opening is delightfully bubbly under Denève, even if it could push forward more on its return. If the Second Symphony deserves wider recognition, Pour une fête de printemps feels long and meandering even in this stylish performance. The Suite in F, on the other hand, is a rollicking example of neo-classicism at its most engaging, especially in this vibrant account, captured in good if slightly boomy sound. Much the same could be said for the performances of the Third Symphony and Bacchus et Ariane. The ballet bounces along with tremendous colour, and some elegant woodwind phrasing while Denève’s ear for detail pays dividends. He maintains a relentless drive in the Symphony, not just in the first movement but keeping up a headlong assault throughout. A little repose would be welcome at times. Nevertheless, amidst the tension, Denève allows the sparkle to come through so that, far from oppressive, these are performances that charm. Christopher Dingle