ROUSSEL: Symphonies Nos 1-4 Orchestre National de France/ Charles Dutoit
ROUSSEL: Symphonies Nos 1-4

Orchestre National de France/ Charles Dutoit

Erato 3984-21090-2

(two discs)

Albert Roussel was one of the century's most outspoken symphonic back- benchers. His contra- puntally rich style runs the gamut from cloudy post-Impressionism to propulsive rowdiness, with catchy tunes aplenty and much brilliant orchestration.

The scenic First Symphony evokes a winter forest, the rebirth of nature and spring, a summer evening and autumnal frolics; the more darkly shaded Second suggests the three stages of man (youth, extrovert maturity, age). The drier Third opens to a pile-driving allegro vivo before climaxing with the most intense of Roussel's symphonic slow movements. The Fourth, although full of bucolic energy, tends more towards the Neo-Classicism that Bohuslav Martinu took as his own symphonic lead.

Roussel was a seafaring man. His Second Symphony in particular could easily have sprung from somewhere along our own coastline: Vaughan Williams and Bax are, in musical terms, fairly close to hand, and it's worth noting that VW3 was premiered just a couple of months before Roussel's No 2 (in 1922).

Erato's slim-line packaging and gnomic liner notes frame an excellent sequence of performances, very well recorded (back in 1985). Anyone who responded to the BBC's recent Martinu festival will find Roussel just as palatable, perhaps even more memorable. Incidentally, Dutoit's equally fine survey of the five Honegger symphonies is newly available as part of the same budget-price series (3984-23240-2).