The music of Albert Roussel, a naval officer turned composer, is only sporadically performed, although in his day it was championed by big names such as Ernest Ansermet and Arturo Toscanini. He draws on various strains of French music but is attached to none. This release is part of a cycle devoted to Roussel's orchestral music by French conductor Stéphane Denève. Le festin de l'araignée (The Spider's Banquet) opens with a flute line seemingly directly inspired by the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun but in general has a jocular style reminiscent of Ravel's lighter works. It is a detailed allegorical representation of insects in a garden, with the titular spider dining on other beasts but itself being killed by a praying mantis two-thirds of the way through. Roussel's wind writing is intricate and unusual, and both Denève and the Naxos engineering team, working in Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow, keep the textures open and clear, with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra delivering precise playing throughout. Padmâvatî was a two-act opera-ballet that Roussel intended to evoke the splendor of Rameau's great spectacles of the 18th century. The opera's libretto is based on an old Indian legend. Excerpted here by two suites of instrumental sections, it makes occasional reference to Indian classical music but does not really come to grips with it (as indeed you would expect in music of this period). Instead Roussel delves into murky chromaticism that he would soon reject in favor of a lighter neo-classical style. In parts the music seems to reflect the influence of The Rite of Spring. Le festin de l'araignée, especially, deserves to be better known, and this strong performance will bring that goal closer.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Le festin de l'araignee (the Spider's Banquet)|
Part 1. Modéré - Entrée des Bousiers (Entrance of the Dung-Beetles). Danse du Papillon (Dance of the Butterfly)
Part 1. Solennel - Entrée guerrière de deux Mantses religieuses (Warlike entrance of two praying Mantises)
|Padmâvatî - Opera-Ballet in Two Acts|