Roussel: Suite for Orchestra in F; Pour une fête de printemps; Évocations

Kathryn Rudge, Alessandro Fisher, François le Roux; 
CBSO Chorus; BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier (Chandos)

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Roussel Suite for Orchestra in F; Pour une fête de printemps; Évocations
Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano), Alessandro Fisher (tenor), François le Roux (baritone); CBSO Chorus; BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier
Chandos CHAN10957 70:45 mins

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This is a wonderful treat. While his symphonies and assorted other orchestral works have fared increasingly well on disc, Albert Roussel’s Evocations is a genuine rarity. Written in 1910-11 for three vocal soloists, chorus and sizeable orchestra, this superbly intoxicating work was prompted by the composer’s travels in India with his wife, the three movements respectively inspired by the Caves of Ellora, Jaipur and Banaras on the river Ganges. The voices enter only in the final piece, adding a sense of dramatic cantata to an already compelling work. The first movement has a Wagnerian sweep to it, albeit with distinctively French colouring, while the second is closer to the motoric rhythms of Roussel’s post-First World War style, though the kaleidoscopic textures are far from lean. Yan Pascal Tortelier draws a detailed, yet marvellously atmospheric performance from the BBC Philharmonic, perfectly judging the balance between moments of luxuriance and the need to keep the pace moving.

In the final movement, soloists Kathryn Rudge, Alessandro Fisher and François le Roux are utterly idiomatic, while the CBSO chorus, shimmering in the numerous wordless passages, is in especially fine voice. The Suite for Orchestra in F major (1926), which opens the disc, could be by another composer and, coming after the war, in many ways it is. The other work here, Pour une fête de printemps (1920), provides the stylistic fulcrum and both are also given first-rate performance. While it is slightly disconcerting hearing the works in reverse chronological order, Evocations is rightfully the climax of an invaluable disc.

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Christopher Dingle