ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
ALBERT ROUSSEL - Le festin de l'araignée

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Roussel - Symphonies (Complete)

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ALBERT ROUSSEL - Le festin de l'araignée - Padmâvatî - Stéphane Denève (Conductor) - Royal Scottish National Orchestra - 747313224371 - Released: January 2012 - Naxos 8.572243

If it wasn't for Le festin de l'araignée (The Spider's Feast), a ballet written in 1912 by the French composer Albert Roussel (1869-1937), that composer's name may very well have been relegated to the dusty shelves of music academia, referenced only when one needed to study his influence on the French symphonic scene. Over time, this ballet gained enough popularity to become Roussel's calling card. Surprising then to see its release at the tail end of a 5 disc traversal of Roussel's orchestral works. But then, what better way to introduce, unannounced, everyone to Albert Roussel's four symphonies, overlooked and neglected up until now. All 4 of those CDs received unanimous praise from the public and critics alike, and now come packaged in a budget box-set from Naxos.

Albert Roussel developed a very personal style, far removed from the norm of the French school at the time, which may somewhat explain the absence of support for his music. His style was not "in" from 1900 to 1935. His technique was more in line with Central European composers of that period. Nonetheless, what he did best was to merge impressionism with new harmonic developments seamlessly, as evidenced in Le festin de l'araignée (The Spider's Feast), a ballet-pantomime based on the narrative of a tale depicting the lives of insects in a garden, with allusions to human behavior much like in George Orwell's 'Animal Farm'. The evocative opening pages in particular, imprinted with Roussel's flair for imagery, immediately set the scene of a halcyonic morning in a beautiful garden, ensued by the daily struggles for survival of various insects, while the closing moments return to the idyllic and peaceful nature of the garden from the start of the work. This is more than likely the score that has kept Roussel's name active within the musical vernacular.

Stéphane Denève's recordings of the Roussel symphonies now rank as one of the best overviews of this composer's output, and now this version of his most famous ballet is like the icing on the cake. The interpretation is fresh, the playing commited, and the recorded sound detailed and natural. If you are not familiar with the music of Albert Roussel, start here. If you already know and appreciate his symphonies, than this wonderful ballet should be a piece of cake. Pun intended!

Jean-Yves Duperron - March 2012