Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Roussel's "Spider's Banquet" provides an aural feast

Roussel: Festin De L'Araignee
Padmâvatî – Suites 1 & 2
Royal Scottish National Orchestra; 
Stéphane Denève, conductor
Naxos

Stéphane Denève and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conclude their survey of Roussel’s orchestral music with two important stage works: La festin de l’araignée, and the suites from the opera Padmâvatî. The previous four volumes from Naxos each focused on a  Roussel symphony, filling in with shorter orchestral works.

This time the centerpiece is his most popular ballet score, La festin de l’araignée (The Spider’s Banquet). This 1912 ballet-pantomime depicts insect life in a garden (especially those trapped in the spider’s web). Its impressionistic score reminds me somewhat of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, only in sharper focus.

The performance features the complete score, and the 32-minute work moves along briskly. Denève and RSNO dig into the lush harmonies and sparkling orchestration with gusto. It’s easy to understand the popularity of the work based on their performance.

The remainder of the album is devoted to two orchestral suites Roussel extracted from his opera-ballet Padmâvatî. Based on a tragic Indian legend, the score is full of exotic color and melodies. As might be expected, the music is much more serious and dramatic than the lighthearted Spider’s Banquet. The orchestral suites are full of appealing music, though  it sometimes sounded to me like Mussorgsky with a French accent.

If you’ve been following Denève’s Roussel cycle, you’ll be happy to know this release makes a fine conclusion to the series. The ensemble and conductor turn in some fine performances that match the quality of those in the previous volumes.

If you’re not familiar with Roussel, this disc might be a good place to start. The Spider’s Banquet just may entice you into Roussel’s charming musical web.

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