It's a shame that Albert Roussel (1869 - 1937 ), has been overshadowed by his French
contemporaries Debussy and Ravel. Perhaps his music lacks the immediate sensuous surface appeal of these two, but Roussel's music may actually have more depth and substance, as heretical as this may sound to some.
He was not an impressionist composer ; in fact, his highly individual music is difficult to
pidgeonhole, like his great Danish contemporary Carl Nielsen.
Roussel's music is rugged and forthright, with pounding rhthms and pungently dissonant
harmonies. There is no affected Gallic chi-chi- and frou-frou in it.
The compact and brilliant 3rd symphony is occaisionally heard at concerts, but his other works
are unfortunately rarely heard, although there have been a fair number of recordings.
The relatively early first symphony , in which each movement represents one of the four seasons, still shows the influence of Debussy , is an attractive work, but the craggy and austere
second takes some getting used to. The fourth is also compact and energetic, like the third.
The colorful balet score Bacchus et Ariane would make a welcome change at concerts
from Ravel's Daphis et Chloe, and the ballet The Spider's Feast is an intriguing score which
portrays a spider which preys on insects in a garden.
Evocations, in three parts, with chorus and soloists in the third, is a dazzling evocation
of Roussel's visit to the great temples of Indochina.
The Suite in F for orchestra is an invigorating work.
The great Opera/Ballet Padmavati, premiered in 1923 by the Paris opera, but rarely revived
subsequently is a fantastically colorful and exotic tale of India during the Mughal conquest.
Roussel had spent time visiting India with his wife, and the opera incorporates Hindu scales
and captures the authentic local color far better than such entertaining but faux Indian
operas such as Delibes' Lakme and Bizet's The Pearl Fishers.
This rarely heard masterpiece was revived this March in Paris to considerable acclaim, and
one hopes it will appear on DVD.
Do not miss the superb EMI recording which has recently been reissued, with Marilyn
Horne, Nicolai Gedda and Jose van Dam, conducted by Michel Plasson.
Roussel's orchestral music has been recorded by such eminent conductors as Jean Martinon
(a pupil ), Charles Munch, Charles Dutoit, Marek Janowski, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Neeme Jarvi
and others. These recordings may not all be available, but are worth looking for.
If any composer ever deserved to be better known, Albert Roussel is one of them.