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Roussel: Symphonies / Janowski, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France

Release Date: 07/31/2012 
Label:  Newton Classics   Catalog #: 8802173   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Albert Roussel
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ROUSSEL Symphonies: No. 1 in d, op. 7, “Le Poème de la forêt”; No. 2 in B?, op. 23; No. 3 in g, op. 42; No. 4 in A, op. 53 Marek Janowski, cond; O Philharmonique de Radio France NEWTON 8802173 (2 CDs: 118:05)

Roussel followed a career path similar to that of Rimsky-Korsakov.
Read more Both were navy men who gravitated towards music, and both went on to write works colored by their travels to exotic ports of call. While Rimsky-Korsakov, however, was largely self-taught, Roussel enrolled himself at the Schola Cantorum where he studied under Vincent d’Indy and, in turn ended up teacher to Satie, Varèse, and Martin?. Roussel was 25 years younger than Rimsky-Korsakov, so he found himself plunged into the midst of the musical politics and warring aesthetic factions that animated Paris in the ’19-teens and ’20s. On any given day, Roussel could have encountered Saint-Saëns walking Dalila, his French poodle, in the Tuileries, met Satie wearing one of his 12 identical gray velvet suits, witnessed Chausson’s fatal bicycle accident, shared a bottle of wine with Fauré and Ravel, frequented the music hall hangouts of Poulenc and other members of Les Six , and—who knows?—maybe even been among the rioters at the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Roussel’s own musical trajectory was one that began by embracing Impressionism, moved on to adopt the ideas of Les nouveaux jeunes and Les Six , and eventually found its personal voice in a neoclassicism that leaned heavily in a tonal direction and that reflected the composer’s Schola Cantorum training and his inclination towards academic discipline. Roussel was a classicist at heart, and his later, mature works, of which the Third (1930) and Fourth (1934) Symphonies are prime examples, provide ample evidence of Roussel’s meticulous craftsmanship.

First off, in comparing Newton’s re-release to RCA’s original, there does seem to be a bit of an improvement in the sound. Take the Third Symphony, a work commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky for the Boston Symphony’s 50th anniversary. It opens with a driving martial onslaught, which, in this 2012 Newton pressing has greater solidity and force. I will concede, though, that high-lying passages in the violins still sound somewhat hard-edged and lacking in bloom.

Turning to a comparison with Dutoit’s readings and recordings, the differences in movement timings reveal Dutoit’s general tendency toward slower tempos. Sometimes the differences are very small, as between third movements in the First Symphony, a difference of only three seconds. But in other instances—the fourth movement of the same symphony, for example—the difference is more noticeable. Out of 15 movements, Dutoit is slower in 10 of them. What’s significant, though, is that Dutoit tends to be slower in the faster-paced movements and faster in the slower-paced movements.

The result is that in a movement like the Assez vif (Very lively) of the First Symphony, Dutoit’s over one-minute slower tempo turns Roussel’s faunes and dryads a bit plump in the rump, while his Fourth Symphony Lento molto , quicker by a virtually negligible seven seconds, does seem to lighten the mood of this gorgeous nocturnal reverie that reverberates with alternating echoes of Debussy and early Schoenberg.

As I continued to flip back and forth between Janowski and Dutoit, what impressed itself upon me more than anything else wasn’t the differences between them but rather just how emotionally expressive and dramatically powerful so much of this music is. This assignment really forced me to listen to Roussel and appreciate these works in a way I never had before, even though these sets had been sitting on my shelf for years.

With the marginally improved sound on these Newton discs over their RCA originals, plus my slight preference for Janowski’s readings—the two orchestras seem evenly matched—I would definitely recommend this Newton rerelease. If you don’t know these Roussel works, you owe it to yourself to discover them, and the current offering is an economical way to do so.

It would be wrong to close, however, without mentioning that Janowski, Dutoit, and the aforementioned Järvi and Eschenbach are not your only choices in this repertoire. For a composer who is not exactly at the top of the “greats” list, Roussel has been favored by a number of famous conductors, among whom are Ansermet, Cluytens, Martinon, Munch, Prêtre, Karajan, and Boulez; not all of them, however, recorded all four symphonies. So, for the complete cycle, I say once again, you will not go wrong with this Newton Janowski set.

Fanfare Jerry Dubins

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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 4 in A major, Op. 53 by Albert Roussel
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; France 
Symphony no 3 in G minor, Op. 42 by Albert Roussel
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929-1930; France 
Symphony no 2 in B major, Op. 23 by Albert Roussel
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919-1921; France 
Symphony no 1 in D minor, Op. 7 "Poème de la forêt" by Albert Roussel
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1904-1906; France 

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