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Having said that, the complete symphonies on a two-disc RCA set (1996) with Marek Janowski and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France will be difficult to knock off their perch.

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra under music director Stéphane Denève (appointed 2005), a 36-year-old Paris Conservatoire graduate, bagged a Diapason d'Or de l'Année (2007) with Roussel's Symphony No 3, while the complete Bacchus et Ariane, a dynamic, faultless ballet (with two suites deriving from it) established Roussel's reputation unequivocally (Naxos).

To add to that, various recordings of Roussel from an earlier generation are well worth tracking down; high among them is Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI, mono, 1949) in Roussel's Symphony No 4 plus Balakirev's Symphony No 1.

A few years later in December 1953 Paul Paray and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra turned their attention to Le Festin de l'araigné probably Roussel's best-known work; this ballet about a spider's feast is perfectly crafted to the tiniest detail. Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice and Fauré's Pelléas and Mélisande Op 80 complete the recording (Mercury Olympian MG-50035).

Paray and the DSO also coupled Roussel's Suite in F, an important piece as it heralded Roussel's final, neo-classic phase. The disc also has Chabrier's Espãna, Suite Pastorale, Marche joyeuse etc (Mercury Living Presence 475 618 SACD).

But the foremost Roussel advocate was undoubtedly Alsatian conductor Charles Münch (1891-1986). His special brand of vitality, colour and elegance is clear in Roussel's Symphony No 3 in G minor, Op 42 (French National Orchestra -- 1964), Symphony No 4 in A major, Op 53 (Orchestre National enregistre au Theatre Municipal de Besancon, 1966) and Bacchus et Ariane Op 43 (2nd Suite, 1966) -- all the above on Disques Montaigne (Mün 2041).

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


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