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Original Masters - Ernest Ansermet - Decca Recordings 1953-1967


Release Date: 02/13/2007 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 000837002   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian BachFranz Joseph HaydnLudwig van BeethovenFelix Mendelssohn,   ... 
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Number of Discs: 6 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



ERNEST ANSERMET DECCA RECORDINGS 1953–1967 Ernest Ansermet, cond; Lausanne Youth Ch; 1 Lausanne R Ch; 1 Vaudoise Natl Church Youth Ch; 2 Suzanne Danco (sop); 2 Marie-Lise de Montmollin (mez); 2 Pauline Martin (mez); 2 Michel Hamel (ten); Read more class="SUPER12">2 Stéphane Audel (nar); 2 O de la Suisse Romande DECCA 475 8140, mono 4 (6 CDs: 445:51)


BACH Cantata BWV 31: Sonata. HAYDN Symphony No. 22. BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 4. WEBER The Ruler of the Spirits Overture. Preciosa Overture. MENDELSSOHN Ruy Blas Overture. BORODIN Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances. 1 LIADOV Kikimora. STRAVINSKY Pulcinella Suite. Scherzo à la russe. SIBELIUS Symphony No. 4. DELIBES Coppélia: Prelude and Mazurka. Sylvia: Les chasseresses. FRANCK Le chasseur maudit. CHABRIER Joyeuse marche. Le roi malgré lui: Danse slav. FAURÉ Pénélope: Prelude. Masques et bergamasques. SCHUMANN (orch. various) Le carnaval. RAVEL Le tombeau de Couperin . DEBUSSY (orch. Büsser) Petite Suite. DEBUSSY (orch. Ansermet) 6 épigraphes antiques. 4 RESPIGHI The Fountains of Rome. Rossiniana. HONEGGER King David. 2 Pacific 231. DUKAS La péri. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Dubinushka. MARTIN Concerto for Seven Winds, Timpani, Percussion, and Strings


In its “Original Masters” series, Decca continues to offer a major windfall to collectors by making available archival recordings by many of the most prominent performers of the last generation (or even the generation that preceded them). A significant number of these recordings have been generally unavailable since vinyl ruled the world—or, at least, the world of classical music retailing. The technical quality of the reissues has been consistently high, and the original sources are carefully documented. Packaged in boxed sets that sell generally at the super-budget price of six to seven dollars per disc, these editions are practically irresistible.


Particularly indispensable are retrospectives, such as the present one, that offer the opportunity to reexamine the career and legacy of an artist like Ansermet, our image of whom is at best incomplete, at worst distorted. A Swiss national—the “Suisse Romande” is, informally, the French-speaking portion of Switzerland—Ansermet was type-cast as a “French conductor,” even by his own record company. The parallels with the career of the French-born Monteux are striking: both recorded largely French and Russian repertoire for decades, eventually winning acceptance as conductors of mainstream Germanic music only late in life; both established themselves early on as ballet conductors and became favorites of Stravinsky, who entrusted crucial premieres to each; and, finally, each spent the main portion of his career making top-notch recordings with second-rate orchestras.


A further stereotype that still attaches to Ansermet is that his background in mathematics somehow explains his special aptitude for Stravinsky’s music. This is a red herring, of course: many other conductors have had a special way with Stravinsky (Monteux, for example) despite the lack of any background in mathematics; and, on the other hand, it doesn’t at all help explain his affinity for other composers such as Debussy and Chabrier. In my own experience, such affinities are more the product of aesthetic responses to certain repertoires; and, indeed, as Mr. Miller has observed, just as there was music to which he was especially drawn, there were also composers whose music Ansermet tended to avoid. Music that wore its proverbial heart on its sleeve, that was overtly emotionally expressive, clearly did not resonate with him. It is surely not by accident that Ansermet’s Tchaikovsky discography consists almost entirely of the ballets and two of the orchestral suites; there is a recording of the “Pathétique,” but I have never heard it.


The task of assembling a representative program of Ansermet’s recordings—he made just over 100 stereo LPs, and who knows how many earlier recordings, going all the way back to the acoustic era—must certainly have been a challenging one, and I can’t imagine anyone fulfilling it without being subjected to a healthy round of second-guessing. The producers have by and large opted for breadth over depth, a decision I applaud, given the amount of Ansermet’s recorded repertoire that is generally disregarded in favor of the ubiquitous Debussy and Stravinsky. One unfortunate consequence of this decision is that there are too many short pieces, making some portions of the set sound a bit like a string of encores. There are 29 pieces in all, or just about five per disc; 13 are under 10 minutes long. By contrast, the analogous Monteux collection (also just issued, and scheduled for review in the next issue of Fanfare ) has 21 pieces spread over its seven discs, or three per CD; and, the Szell set, issued a year or so ago, fits 13 pieces onto its five discs, for an average of 2.6. On the other hand, practically an entire disc is given over to Le roi David by Ansermet’s compatriot Honegger, which seems overly extravagant to me, when instead we might have had, say, the Brahms Third and Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (neither composer is represented); or, with just a bit more pruning elsewhere, the entire Nutcracker ballet, one of his most gorgeous recordings! Of course, I must confess that I don’t make much of the Honegger; the music is not especially memorable, and I find the narrator a distracting gimmick. Also, no text is provided, in French or English—not even a summary, which hardly helps. Really, there’s cheap and there’s cheap!


Going back to the beginning, though, it’s refreshing—and ear-opening—to discover that the first two discs contain no French music. Opening the set with the brief and brilliant orchestral Sonata from Bach’s Cantata No. 31 is an effective stroke, and the inclusion of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony on the first disc is a terrific idea. One wonders why Decca’s John Culshaw, or anyone else, criticized Ansermet’s Beethoven so bitterly: this is an exemplary if unsubtle performance, the prominence of the winds (another way of viewing the OSR’s thin string sound) giving it a hint of period-instrument feel. All repeats are taken. Like Monteux, Ansermet finally got the chance to record the complete Beethoven symphonies (and, doing him one better, the Brahms) during his last decade. I’d like to hear more. The two obscure Weber overtures further illustrate the range of Ansermet’s repertoire. Haydn’s famous “Philosopher” Symphony is merely a curiosity; one of the “Paris” Symphonies—of which Ansermet’s was apparently the first integral recording—would have been a better choice.


Disc 2 is mostly Russian. The “Polovtsian Dances” are not particularly revelatory; the Prince Igor Overture, in stunning 1954 stereo, would have been a far stronger substitute. The Pulcinella Suite from 1956 is one of the weakest items in the set; perhaps because the orchestra is small and the recording still early (it is fascinating to listen to the evolution of Decca’s famous stereo sound from its beginnings into the 1960s), the sound stage is narrow and unattractive. This performance is also included in a huge Stravinsky boxed set (467 818) which hard-core Ansermet collectors are bound to have already; for those who don’t, this, along with the four-minute Scherzo à la russe , is an inadequate representation of the most important composer in Ansermet’s discography. Including the Sibelius Fourth was another brilliant stroke; about as far from Ansermet’s beaten path as any piece here, it receives a compelling performance that I praised in my omnibus Sibelius article (30:3) before knowing it was to appear here.


Discs 3 and 4, finally, bring us to Ansermet’s core repertoire. Disc 3 offers a series of brief French pieces centered mostly on ballet; these spirited performances sparkle in vivid sound. Comparing the recording of the two Delibes items, recorded in 1957 and 1959, respectively, is fascinating; the latter has a broader, fuller soundstage with more hall ambience. The arrangement of Carnaval that takes up the last 26 minutes of disc 3 brings Ansermet back to his “roots” with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes , but musically it’s a cipher, a period piece at best, and one that outlasts its welcome. The Fauré ( Masques et bergamasques ), Ravel, and Debussy ( Petite suite ) items that comprise the first half of disc 4 show Ansermet completely in his element; the orchestra plays with delicacy and beauty, and the woodwinds show surprising agility in Le tombeau de Couperin.


Ansermet’s own tasteful orchestration of the Six épigraphes antiques from 1953 is the earliest, and the only mono, item in the set. As Mr. Miller has mentioned, several items that are identified in the booklet as mono recordings are actually in stereo. What appears to have happened is that whoever assembled the information for the booklet was hoisted on his/her own petard in a combination of over-conscientiousness and Anglo-centrism. Each item is listed with all the pertinent recording data, including the serial number of the first British LP issue; many items recorded before 1958 were naturally issued in mono only at the time, some being reissued in stereo years later—in which case the first stereo release is listed—and others never appearing on stereo LP in the UK, even though they may have been issued in stereo by London in the US. The issue numbers given for these recordings are therefore the mono series, and someone presumed that they must be mono-only recordings. To be fair, the people who write notes for CD booklets often do not get to hear the actual recordings, and this leads to embarrassing situations like the present one. Finally, disc 4 concludes with a rather low-voltage Fountains of Rome in which one particularly longs for more breadth in the climactic “La fontana di Trevi al meriggio.”


Honegger’s onomatopoeic Pacific 231 , dedicated to Ansermet and something of a signature item, serves as an encore for Le roi David on disc 5. Disc 6 is nothing but winners: beginning with the ravishing La péri in a performance painted with more colors than Boulez could ever dream in; this is followed by the rousing Dubinushka which, again, is fine as far as it goes, but we could really use something more substantial of Rimsky-Korsakov, like Sadko or the exquisite Christmas Eve Suite . By the way, the blue-back FFSS stereo edition of the London LP was one of my first record purchases as a teenager, and after extensive and meticulous study of the cover I can report that the fleshier version survived at least some time into the stereo era. At least the two early-stereo Rimsky LP collections plus the 1960 Scheherazade are available in a Double Decker edition (443 464)—buy it! Rossiniana , another one of those pieces right up Ansermet’s alley, was probably one of his last recordings (February 1967); and, the Frank Martin Concerto is given an incisive and committed performance, another example of Ansermet’s support of his friends and compatriots.


Even if this compilation loses its sense of direction from time to time, it holds quite a few real treasures, and can be had for under $40. Much of Ansermet’s best work is under-represented or—like the Tchaikovsky ballets—completely absent, but this could be rectified by invoking the same strategy Decca has used for Clifford Curzon and Eduard van Beinum: multiple volumes. Among my desert-island Ansermet recordings that ought to be reissued in a subsequent volume are the Prince Igor Overture from 1954; Liadov’s Eight Russian Folk Songs from the same LP as the Kikimora given here, and a 1954 stunner as well; Bizet’s Symphony in C Major; and, Ansermet’s answer to George Szell’s claim that there are no undiscovered masterpieces, Albéric Magnard’s Third Symphony. The Tchaikovsky ballets—all three of them, although Ansermet uses the truncated Drigo version of Swan Lake —deserve a box all to themselves. And then there are the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, not to mention buckets of Debussy and Ravel. And if the people from Decca (Deccans?) really get adventurous, they can mine the vaults for pre-stereo exotica like the Villa-Lobos Piano Concerto, the Martin Violin Concerto with Wolfgang Schneiderhan, and the Walther Geiser Symphony in D Minor.


Note: after reverting to the fragile multiple jewel box for the Szell set, Decca has packaged the present set in the now-standard paper sleeves and hinged cardboard box. Since I learned a great deal from the booklets accompanying some previous issues in this series, I found the notes for this set superficial and inadequate.


If the most serious criticism of a collection of recordings is that there isn’t enough of it, I think it’s reasonable to consider the review positive. Buy and enjoy!


FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

1. Der Himmel lacht! die Erde jubilieret, BWV 31 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1715; Cöthen, Germany 
2. Symphony no 22 in E flat major, H 1 no 22 "Philosopher" by Franz Joseph Haydn
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1764; Eszterhazá, Hungary 
3. Symphony no 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria 
4. Ruy Blas Overture, Op. 95 by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839; Germany 
5. Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances by Alexander Borodin
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: Russia 
Notes: Composition written: Russia (1869 - 1887). 
6. Kikimora, Op. 63 by Anatole Liadov
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1909; Russia 
7. Pulcinella Suite by Igor Stravinsky
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1922/1947; France 
8. Symphony no 4 in A minor, Op. 63 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911; Finland 
9. Coppélia: Prelude by Léo Delibes
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1870; France 
10. Sylvia: Les Chasseresses by Léo Delibes
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1876; France 
11. Le chasseur maudit, M 44 by César Franck
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1882; France 
12. Joyeuse marche "Marche française" by Emmanuel Chabrier
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
13. Pénélope: Prelude by Gabriel Fauré
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1907-1912; France 
14. Carnaval, Op. 9 by Robert Schumann
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1833-1835; Germany 
15. Masques et bergamasques Suite, Op. 112 by Gabriel Fauré
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1919; France 
16. Le tombeau de Couperin by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914-1917; orch. 191; France 
17. Epigraphes antiques (6) by Claude Debussy
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914; France 
18. Fountains of Rome by Ottorino Respighi
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914-1916; Rome, Italy 
19. Le roi David by Arthur Honegger
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921; France 
20. Mouvement symphoniques (3): no 1, Pacific 231 by Arthur Honegger
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
21. La péri: Fanfare by Paul Dukas
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1911-1912; France 
22. Dubinushka, Op. 62 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1905-1906; Russia 
23. Rossiniana by Ottorino Respighi
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; Rome, Italy 
24. Scherzo à la russe by Igor Stravinsky
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943-1944; USA 
25. Ruler of the Spirits Overture, J 122/Op. 27 by Carl Maria von Weber
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1811; Germany 
26. Preciosa, J 279: Overture by Carl Maria von Weber
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1820; Dresden, Germany 
27. Claude Debussy Petite Suite: Ballet by 

Sound Samples

Cantate No.31 "Der Himmel lacht, die Erde jubilieret", BWV 31: 1. Sonata
Symphony in E flat, H.I No.22 -"The Philosopher": 1. Adagio
Symphony in E flat, H.I No.22 -"The Philosopher": 2. Presto
Symphony in E flat, H.I No.22 -"The Philosopher": 3. Menuetto
Symphony in E flat, H.I No.22 -"The Philosopher": 4. Finale (Presto)
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60: 1. Adagio - Allegro vivace
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60: 2. Adagio
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60: 3. Allegro vivace
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60: 4. Allegro ma non troppo
The Ruler of the Spirits - Overture
Overture Preciosa
Ruy Blas, Op.95 - Overture to Victor Hugo's play
Prince Igor: Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens
Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances
Kikimora, Op.63
Pulcinella (Concert Suite): 1. Sinfonia
Pulcinella (Concert Suite): 2. Serenata
Pulcinella (Concert Suite): 3a. Scherzino
Pulcinella (Concert Suite): 3b. Allegro
Pulcinella (Concert Suite): 3c. Andantino
Pulcinella (Concert Suite): 4. Tarantella
Pulcinella (Concert Suite): 5. Toccata
Pulcinella (Concert Suite): 6. Gavotta con due variazioni
Pulcinella (Concert Suite): 7. Vivo
Pulcinella (Concert Suite): 8a. Minuetto
Pulcinella (Concert Suite): 8b. Finale
Symphony No.4 in A minor, Op.63: 1. Tempo molto moderato, quasi adagio
Symphony No.4 in A minor, Op.63: 2. Allegro molto vivace
Symphony No.4 in A minor, Op.63: 3. Il tempo largo
Symphony No.4 in A minor, Op.63: 4. Allegro

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