Roussel: Symphonies Nos 1 (Le poème de la forêt) & 4

LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 (Le poème de la forêt) & 4
PERFORMER: Orchestre de Paris/Christoph Eschenbach
It would be easy to think that these symphonies were by different composers. A work that deserves greater recognition, Roussel’s First Symphony is a highpoint of the first flowering of his compositional voice Written between 1904 and 1906, and titled Le poème de la forêt, this warm-hearted Impressionist work conveys Roussel’s love of the forest along lines similar to Debussy’s contemporaneous La mer. By the time of the Fourth Symphony, Roussel had, like many others, long dispensed with such dreamy evocations, adopting a more concise style that favoured purity and clarity (see article, p76). It is certainly a more genial work than the more widely known Third Symphony, taking the listener by the hand rather than by the scruff of the neck. As with their earlier disc of the Second Symphony (reviewed in July 2006), these are very impressive performances from the Orchestre de Paris under Christoph Eschenbach. The languorous slow movement of the first symphony, ‘Soir d’été’, is sublime, while Eschenbach finds the latent menace underpinning the opening ‘Forêt d’hiver’. These are spacious performances, allowing the music plenty of space to breath. Charles Dutoit’s more sprightly readings of the symphonies have just reappeared (Warner), and are strong competitors. Eschenbach lacks a little sparkle in the final movement of the Fourth Symphony, and does not have Cluyten’s drive to compensate (Testament), but Dutoit does not convey the same architectural weight. Eschenbach also has the advantage of a more natural, if occasionally boomy, recording than Cluyten’s, and his magnificent account of the First Symphony is unsurpassed. Christopher Dingle