Roussel – Symphony No. 4

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Roussel
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Concert for small orchestra; Petite Suite; Sinfonietta; Rapsodie flamande
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish NO/Stéphane Denève
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572135

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This fourth instalment in the RSNO and Stéphane Denève’s rewarding survey of Roussel’s orchestral works firmly focuses on the composer’s late period. The pieces here all reflect the economy of resources typical of the crystalline neo-classicism Roussel developed after the First World War. The earliest is the Concert for small orchestra from 1927, a modest successor to the watershed Suite in F. The mysterious central Andante, recalling Roussel’s early period, is utterly magical in Denève’s hands.

It is one of the highlights of the disc, along with the charming Petite Suite, which, especially in the cheeky ‘Aubade’, is redolent of Milhaud’s more inspired moments. It is also useful to have these fine performances of the Sinfonietta and Rapsodie flamande, the latter a nod towards Roussel’s Flemish roots, though it is more dogged than celebratory in spirit.

Symphony No. 4 is the main work offered here, and completes Denève’s cycle. It is not nearly so well known as the Third Symphony, being less driven, yet not wholeheartedly sunny either. Denève’s advocacy is, for once, not entirely convincing, not quite possessing either the taut grip of Cluytens’s compelling account (Testament/EMI), or Dutoit’s elusive sparkle (Warner).

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Nonetheless, despite moments of drift, there is beautiful playing from the RSNO, especially in the opening of the final movement, and some marvellous moments, such as the first climax of the Lento molto. Christopher Dingle