This disc is an ideal place to start for anyone curious about the music of Albert Roussel. The selection of pieces and the performances on this two-disc EMI set can't be beat. Among the best are those by André Cluytens and the Orchestre de la Societé des Concerts du Conservatoire of the Third and Fourth symphonies and the Sinfonietta, and those by Georges Prêtre and the Orchestra National de France of the two great ballets, Bacchus et Ariane and Le Festin de l'araignée. The symphonies are strongly rhythmic, brilliantly colored, tightly structured works, and Cluytens and his forces give them all they have. While the performances may not be as polished as more recent recordings, Cluytens' fire, insight, and authority are more than compensatory, they're revelatory. Roussel's ballets are likewise brightly colored works, but they are much more powerfully rhythmic -- the Bacchanale that concludes Bacchus et Ariane is as shattering as anything in Debussy or Ravel, and they are less concerned with structure than with poetry -- the Introduction to Bacchus et Ariane's second act is as sultry as the opening of the second part of Stravinsky's Le Sacre. Prêtre's refined yet extremely ardent performances are unmatched. The remaining three performances are nearly in the same exalted class as Cluytens' and Prêtre's. Pianist Danielle Laval turns in a vivacious and virtuosic performance of the Piano Concerto with Jean-Pierre Jacquillat leading the Orchestre de Paris, and Jacquillat and his Parisian musicians give a lusty account of Pour une Fête de printemps. Michel Plasson and the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse deliver a reading of Roussel's tone poem Résurrection of such commanding conviction and consummate grace that it nearly redeems the early work's flirtations with banality and sentimentality.
The sound is variable. Cluytens' recordings are vivid and colorful, but tend to get hazy in tuttis. Prêtre's are just as colorful, and clearer top to bottom, but not as present. Jacquillat's are more recessed than Prêtre's, with a flattened sense of perspective that puts the pianist and the orchestra on the same plane. Plasson's is rich, deep, and wide-ranging, but ever so slightly glassy.