Christoph Eschenbach

Albert Roussel: Symphonies Nos. 1 "Le Poème de la forêt" & 4

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The music of Albert Roussel is not easy to pigeonhole, due to the evocative Impressionism of his early compositions and the more abstract neo-Classicism of his later works, composed after World War I. With its emphasis on timbres and textures over themes and development, the Impressionist style may not seem particularly well suited to symphonic music. Yet in his loosely programmatic and lushly orchestrated Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 7, "Le Poème de la forêt" (1906), Roussel blended this characteristically French style with the Germanic form par excellence, and attempted to balance his attraction to the picturesque with his interest in Classical form. Though the movements of this symphony are essentially four tone poems about the primeval forest -- a theme Roussel often visited in other works of the period -- their coherence and unity give the piece a feeling of wholeness and real symphonic proportion. The fairly compact Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 35 (1934), presents a striking contrast to the rich orchestral palette and the luxuriant harmonies of the first work, and its lean lines, incisive rhythms, and rugged counterpoint work well in the symphonic context. Both works are presented in lucid performances by Christoph Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris, who deliver the right amount of languor and exoticism in the Symphony No. 1 and make the Symphony No. 4 sound muscular, resilient, and utterly modern in tone. Ondine's reproduction on this 2007 release is sumptuous and rich, and the orchestral sound is wonderfully full and resonant.

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