Classical Music: Double Play: Roussel: Bacchus et Ariane; Le festin de l'araignee BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Yan Pascal Tortelier (Chandos CHAN 9494)
Edward Seckerson and Stephen Johnson compare notes on...
Friday 09 August 1996
Repose, when it comes, is the more refreshing for being earned, as witness the exquisite music (spellbinding solo violin to the fore) which so memorably transports Ariadne to her big sleep at the close of Act 1. And after the big sleep, the big kiss, and an inspired melody (truly it has the ring of immortality about it) which Roussel has held patiently, prudently, in reserve until now. At the height of the Bacchanale, it roars out in the horns, triumphantly to signal the moment in which Bacchus crowns his Ariadne with stars.
Like everything else in this splendid performance (another triumph for the Tortelier/ BBC Philharmonic alliance), it's a moment that comes at you with all the stops out. Another opulent Chandos recording opens to it. After which the flora and fauna of the somewhat Debussy-bound Le festin de l'araignee (the earthy, forthright style of the later score is not even a glint in the eye) sounds decidedly anaemic. Debussy's fawn has mated with Ravel's goose and everything in the garden is, if not rosy, then felicitous. It's very much a score in need of its ballet, deftly scored to be deftly illustrative. Its passing pleasures pass. Leaving this listener to hit the start button for a rapid return to ancient Greece. ES
Look for Albert Roussel in the music dic-tionaries and standard textbooks and you will most likely find him in the pigeon-hole marked "French neo- classic". He doesn't really belong there, though. There are moments in Le festin de l'araignee ("The spider's banquet") that sound "French" enough: hints of Dukas, more than hints of Debussy, and in the haunting opening and closing music, something of the exquisite sadness of Ravel. Even here, though, Roussel mixes his colours quite differently; and his restraint in depicting the spider's death - its muted theatricality - is hard to parallel anywhere. It's worlds away from the powerfully suggestive restraint of Debussy's Jeux.
If Le festin sometimes sounds French without being classical, Bacchus et Ariane gestures towards neo-classicism while avoiding obvious French character traits: impressionism, Gallic folksiness - to find national elements you have to probe a lot deeper. The claim that the full ballet is Roussel's magnum opus feels a lot stronger after this magnificent recording. As an interpreter, Yan Pascal Tortelier's credentials are just about impeccable: he has the right touch in a wide range of French music, but he has also achieved fine things in Hindemith, and in some of Roussel's English contemporaries - broadly speaking, a mixture of those elements suits Bacchus et Ariane rather well. The BBC Philharmonic respond alertly and poetically - Tortelier is a fine technician as well as an outstanding communicator. And the Chandos production has done wonders: nothing studio-like about the sound, but atmosphere and clarity well-balanced. If there can be such a thing as an "Essential Albert Roussel" disc, this is it. SJ
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant