Symphony No. 1/Roussel

November 27, 2009

When one thinks of France and classical music at the beginning of the 20th century Debussy and Ravel immediately come to mine at least as far as this reviewer is concerned. Yet Albert Roussel (1869-1937) compositions should be recognized and with the exception of his ballet Bacchus et Ariane (1931) he is forgotten by most.

Written between 1904-06 Roussel’s First Symphony was given its premiere in 1908 in Brussels. Poem of the Forest, the subtitle, refers to how the four seasons affect the forest during the year. The order of the four movements are winter, spring, summer, and fall. One can clearly hear the influence of Debussy and his teacher D’Indy in this work. “Foret d’hiver” (winter) paints a bleak picture featuring the soulful oboe carrying the melody followed by agitated string play and ending with the horn. “Renouveau” (spring) begins immediately without pause with flutes, and woodwinds as the forest is becoming alive with life. The pace quickens and the horns and the harp join in the coming of spring. “Soir d’ete” (summer) offers a nocturne of a quiet serenade on a summer evening. The very Debussy like sound fills the air with love and romance. “Faunes et dryades” (fall) is a lively movement and is the most complex and longest of the four with themes coming from woodwinds, horns, and Spanish type percussion very quickly. As the foreboding music rises it suddenly changes to tranquility from the flute and harp and without notice the agitated music returns again with horns taking the spotlight. Finally the movement ends on a quiet moment returning to how it began in the winter movement. Overall this is an excellent first effort at a symphony from Roussel.

Resurrection-Symphonic Prelude, Op. 4 written in 1903, was the first attempt of Roussel at doing an orchestral piece. Named after the final novel of Tolstoy the relatively short composition seems to be merely an exercise in orchestration and arranging. The overall darkness of the work might have an appeal to some but I found it to be rather dull and uninspiring and I could find no tie in to the novel what so ever. However, it should be remembered this was from a newcomer and I’ve heard worse.

Le marchand de sable qui passe (The Sandman) Op. 13 was composed in 1908 for the pantomime written by George Jean-Aubry and the premiere was conducted by the composer. It was originally written for flute, clarinet, horn, harp, and string quartet but the strings of the symphony are substituted in this incidental music that has a nice flavor to it. I found the use of the harp to be an enchanting part of this lovely music. Listening to the music was somewhat like listening to a soundtrack and not having seen the film. In this case if I’d seen the pantomime it could have given me a greater understanding of the material which was quite pleasing in either case.

Overall, it is nice to see Stephane Deneve and the Royal Scottish Orchestra recording the works of Albert Roussel, a composer that many should explore. Recommended.

Produced and engineered by Tim Handley

CD# is Naxos 8.570323

Track Listing:

Symphony No. 1, Op. 7, “Le poeme de la foret”


Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Deneve, Stephane, Conductor


1. I. Foret d’hiver 00:05:27


2. II. Renouveau 00:07:04


3. III. Soir d’ete 00:08:34


4. IV. Faunes et dryades 00:14:26


Resurrection, Op. 4


Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Deneve, Stephane, Conductor


5. Resurrection, Op. 4 00:10:48


Le marchand de sable qui passe, Op. 13


Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Deneve, Stephane, Conductor


6. Prelude 00:04:18


7. Scene 2 00:03:40


8. Interlude – Scene 4 00:04:59


9. Final Scene 00:05:11





Total Playing Time: 01:04:27