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Cd Feature/ Christoph Eschenbach: "Albert Roussel - Symphony No.2"

img  Tobias

For a composer alledgedly overlooked by his contempories and consistently rated below his true value, Albert Roussel has managed to gather quite a few disciples both in the course of his life and after his all too sudden death of a heart attack in 1937. There are plenty of insightful articles on him to be found on the Web (the Wikipedia entry being the weakest link in the chain) and there is even a fanpage of sorts with reviews on all of his works. Now, to be honest, I have never really had all too much sympathy for those “ahead of his or her time” claims (regardless of whom they were applied to) or the feeling that someone has been treated unfairly by history – simply because there is no such thing as justice in love and the arts. And yet, if famed conductor Christoph Eschenbach calls Roussel’s second symphony the “greatest discovery he has made in years”, he is not exagerating one bit.

This holds true for two simple reasons: Firstly, Eschenbach is a thoughtful man of subtle manners – delivering easy quotes for the papers or spectacular slogans for his record company are not his style. And secondly, the work indeed has a renewed timeliness and sudden urgency, which places it firmly in the musical canon of the 21st century. For different reasons, which can, but do need necessarily have to be traced back to his childhood traumas and to growing up as an orphan, Roussel does not see the world as the simple place of cause and effect most make it out to be. Chaos is all around and its impact on every aspect of human life implies a shift in the perception of artistic development and the treatment of themes, motives and moods. As such, this piece, which consists of three compact movements of a maximum of seventeen minutes’ length, will instantly cause aversion in those demanding a certain feel-good factor from classical music. The entire symphony flows like a silvery fluid through the tube of a tight thermometer in a whitely glowing vacuum, but its fever level is no longer determined by the composer alone – it appears to follow its own rules, sweat out according to the body functions of an imaginary patient bathing in autumn’s aether. Thus, the first movement may start out as a pulsating corona interspersed by tortured and surpressed screams from the string section and enter a nervous middle section full of crescendi and decrescendi, but it still find solace in a painfully bitter-sweet final chord. Accordingly, the second part strays from a warm and optmistic opening into darker and opaque waters. When the main motive is picked up again, it has suddenly been smudged and tinged, leading into a threatening and (thanks to a mysterious glockenspiel appearance) almost occult climax. In the finale, Roussel throws aboard all obvious structures and enters a space dominated by nightly shades and neon-like colours emanating from bizarre plants. Still, the work seems to have found peace in the last few bars, fading into a soothing silence.

Hoever “extreme” the first encounter may be, melody and rhythm are never absent from this weird creature, offering support for those willing to dive deeper. Eschenbach has taken the right decision in allowing the individual movements to almost glide in and out of each other as if they were merely different stages of the very same voyage. If this is up your alley, then the score to the ballet “Bacchus et Ariane” also included on this disc should be equally satisfying. More diverse and clearly more readily accesible, they make for a great overture to the sinister broodings of the symphony. On the strenght of this release, the community of is likely to grow even more.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Ondine Records
Homepage: Site dedicated to Albert Roussel

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