Roussel: Symphony No. 2; Bacchus et Ariane

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COMPOSERS: Roussel
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Roussel
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Bacchus et Ariane
PERFORMER: Orchestre de Paris/Christoph Eschenbach
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1065-2
Roussel’s Second Symphony is an undervalued work. It was written on the cusp of the transformation towards greater simplicity and a more positive message that occurred in Roussel’s music after the First World War. The signs of this change can be detected throughout, with the first and last movements each building to moments of extended joie de vivre. Nonetheless, the Symphony ends in subdued reflection, explaining, perhaps, its poor initial reception, though ultimately it is all the more enduring a work for not ending with a predictable bang and crash.

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Christoph Eschenbach admits the Symphony has been a revelation to him, conducting it with the conviction of a convert, with his pacing of the sombre, slow-burning introduction being especially finely judged. Even if Dutoit’s survey of the symphonies and Martinon’s outstanding account of the Second (both Warner) had not just been deleted, Eschenbach would be a strong recommendation. The Orchestre de Paris is in superlative form, both in the Symphony and the ballet Bacchus et Ariane, providing a marvellous lesson in nuanced gallic colours, all captured in fine sound. Described on the CD cover and documentation as the two orchestral suites, this is, nonetheless, the complete music from Bacchus, and Eschenbach matches Tortelier (Chandos) blow for blow in this pulsating music. Christopher Dingle.