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Second Fiddle?

Symphonies by
Albert Roussel -
reviewed by

'... clarity, focus and sheer ambience.'

Albert Roussel: Symphony No 1 'Le Poème de la forêt'; Symphony No 4. © 2007 Ondine Inc

During decades of comprehensive and avid musical appreciation I've circled round Roussel like a comet in its trajectory around the sun. After each circuit I've headed for deep space.

I suspect I've been far from alone. From all accounts it seems as if Albert Roussel (1869-1937) has 'played second fiddle' to Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), Debussy (1862-1918), Bizet (1838-1875), Offenbach (1819-1880), Poulenc (1899-1936) and other noted Gallic composers.

Early in life Roussel chose to be a sailor, then took up music as an adult and completed his studies aged thirty eight. Debussy was a major influence in the former seaman's earlier work, though later on he looked more to neo-classicism.

Now, I'm told Roussel is coming into his own and CDs of his work, while hardly abundant, are appearing on the market with increasing regularity.

The Roussel canon includes four symphonies (No 1 -- 1904/06; No 2 -- 1919/21; No 3 -- 1929/30; No 4 -- 1934), a piano concerto, two violin sonatas, a string quartet, string, piano and flute trios and an operetta -- Le testament de la tante Caroline (1922/23). Other works have enjoyed some popularity; most notably the orchestral suites Le Festin de l'araignée (1912) and Bacchus et Ariane (1930). All but a handful of the opuses (1-59) are numbered.

Fortunately, with the seventieth anniversary of Roussel's death (2007), this effectively performed Ondine release has appeared.

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Copyright © 30 January 2008 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


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