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Albert Roussel: Symphony No.3 in G minor, op.42 [1/4]

Albert Roussel (1869-1937): Symphony No.3 in G minor, op.42 [1929-1930]

I. Allegro vivo

BBC Symphony Orchestra

Lionel Bringuier, conductor

At every stage of his career, Roussel's best work is masterly finished, engaging, surefire. But for the connoisseur, tracing his stylistic evolution possesses a fascination of its own. If the opera-ballet Padmåvatî (1914-1918) crowns his second manner, making explicit the preoccupation with instinct and annihilation ironically broached in the ballet Le Festin de l'araignée (1912), his Symphony No. 2 (1919-1920) encapsulates the period with formal yet disturbing point. The ironic detachment of Le Festin gives way to dark (and harmonically adventurous) foreboding, while the irrepressibly animated episodes are fraught with frenzied feverishness. But by the mid-1920s the skies had cleared, so to speak, and Roussel entered his final, neo-Classical, phase with the orchestral Suite in F (1926) whose three movements—two in Baroque dance forms—afford a foretaste of the Symphony No. 3 in their effortless combination of energy and serenity. Commissioned by Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Suite received its premiere by those forces January 21, 1927, continuing a Francophile tradition that had seen Henri Rabaud and Pierre Monteux as chef d'orchestre, and entertained Roussel's teacher and colleague, Vincent d'Indy, in 1905 and 1921.

To celebrate the B.S.O.'s 50th anniversary, Koussevitzky commissioned a number of works including Honegger's Symphony No. 1, Prokofiev's Fourth, Hindemith's Concert Music, Op. 50, Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, and Roussel's Symphony No. 3. The Third occupied Roussel from August 1929 through March 1930. Roussel and his wife were present for the Boston premiere, October 24, 1930, the composer remarking that Koussevitzky had conducted "with an extraordinary care and enthusiasm," and noting the day after, "As far as I can gauge after this hearing, it is the best thing I have done...." That, indeed, has been the consensus of critics and listeners alike—only the ballet Bacchus et Ariane, which followed it immediately, has rivaled it in popularity. From the sardonic strut of the opening, the Third is immediately arresting, while its tightly coiled argument—compact even for the form-conscious Roussel—compels by its melding of logic and vivacity, sophistication and primitivism. The second movement transcends counterpoint in a miracle of passionate, ostinato-driven polyphony, while the scherzo and final Allegro con spirito—elegant and rumbustious by turns—are wrought with colossal playfulness. Albert Wolff and the Concerts Lamoureux gave the Paris premiere on November 28, 1931, and made a classic recording of the work the following year.

© All Music Guide"

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