Roussel: Bacchus et Ariane; Le festin de l’araignée

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COMPOSERS: Roussel
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Bacchus et Ariane; Le festin de l’araignée
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9494
Roussel’s two most celebrated ballets side by side shed gorgeous light on the direction taken by French music in the early part of the 20th century. The entomological fantasy of The Spider’s Banquet spins its own needlepoint paraphrase on the narcotic spell of Debussy and early Ravel, while Bacchus et Ariane dances out of the impressionistic wood with a perfect realisation of what some would label as neo-classical tenets – as Roussel put it, ‘cleaner lines, more forthright statements, more vigorous rhythms’.

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Neither the individual numbers nor the overall structures of each ballet ever outstay their welcome, so its seems unpardonable that we usually hear only the second suite (which is the second half) of Bacchus and ‘symphonic fragments’ from Le festin which exclude several of the most haunting passages for strings alone. Tortelier flicks and bounces his orchestra with a true sorcière’s touch through both ballets – the waltzing mayfly in the Spider’s Banquet is a superb piece of interpretation – while the recording expansively captures the full-throttle horns and cascading woodwind of Bacchus, the busier score. David Nice