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Delibes: Coppelia; Ravel: Daphnis Et Chloe / Ansermet

Delibes / Rave / Ansermet / Osr
Release Date: 04/10/2009 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4800083  
Composer:  Léo DelibesMaurice Ravel
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DELIBES Coppélia. Sylvia: Suite. RAVEL Daphnis et Chloé: Suite No. 2 Ernest Ansermet, cond; O de la Suisse Romande DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 0083 (2 CDs: 119:42)

The flood of releases in Eloquence’s “Decca Ansermet Legacy” series is continuing to flesh out the portrait, documented in Decca’s own “Original Masters” set reviewed in Read more style="font-style:italic">Fanfare 30:6, of a conductor of catholic tastes and great versatility. Still, this reissue, along with those of Ansermet’s three Tchaikovsky ballet recordings, released concurrently and reviewed elsewhere, confirms the widely held view that there was no métier in which he was more at home than ballet.

Coppélia and the Tchaikovsky ballets were all recorded in a span of about two years— Coppélia in 1957, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake in 1958, and The Sleeping Beauty in 1959. All recorded in stereo and issued within two years of the introduction of the stereo LP, they did much to establish the reputation of Decca/London’s stereo recordings. As it turned out, these four were the only full-length ballets Ansermet recorded. Coppélia has a special discographic distinction: it was one of the first batch of stereo LPs issued in the U.S. by London, and the very first instrumental multi-disc set, bearing the catalog number CSA-2201. (The second digit was the number of discs in the set; the third and fourth were sequentially assigned to sets as they were prepared for publication.) The two discs themselves bore the numbers CS-6002 and 6003, and were thus the second and third LPs in London’s stereo numerical system; CS-6001 was Peter Maag’s recording of Mendelssohn’s complete music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream , still considered by many connoisseurs to be among Decca/London’s greatest musical and sonic achievements.

Ansermet’s Coppélia , like the Tchaikovsky ballet recordings, brings out not only his best but also that of his orchestra. The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande was notoriously a less than top-rank ensemble, and yet in this music—some of it quite technically intricate—they play beautifully and flawlessly. In the Divertissement that makes up most of tableau III, much of the music is delicately scored, and practically all the flashy string-writing and exposed wind solos sound first-rate. If there is any fault to be found with this recording, it is that the sound is a bit bright; Decca was constantly tinkering with its stereo engineering. This becomes vividly clear with the beginning of the suite from Sylvia —recorded two years later—partway through disc 2; suddenly the sound is fuller and smoother, without the hint of an “edge” (some would just consider it high-frequency clarity) we hear in Coppélia . Ansermet plays the usual four excerpts: the “Prélude-Les chasseresses”; the “Intermezzo et Valse lente”; the famous “Pizzicati”; and the “Marche-Cortège de Bacchus.”

The Ravel, seemingly just a filler, is actually something of a rarity; Ansermet recorded the complete Daphnis twice, first in 1952 (the ballet’s first complete recording), and then in stereo in 1965, but this recording from 1960 is his only version of just the Suite No. 2, and is played without chorus; it has only rarely been reissued. The reading is quite different from that of the complete stereo version—something atypical for Ansermet, who was usually very consistent in his interpretations over the years. The “Lever du jour,” played more slowly here than usual, is even slower in 1965; the 1960 recording is incredibly detailed, and while every note of the difficult woodwind figures of the opening can be heard, so can some serious intonation problems. The 1965 version is much more atmospheric, which is probably what Ravel intended, and while there are still intonation problems, they are not as severe. In the “Pantomime,” the flute solo, marked expressif et souple , is not very souple at all; and, in this version, Ansermet really whips up the “Danse générale,” where in 1965 he begins more deliberately, and then really takes off in the last few pages. It’s a fascinating comparison for the serious student of Ansermet’s conducting.

To cut to the chase, then: this is one of the issues that represents Ansermet and the OSR at their best; while I’m hardly an authority on competing versions of Coppélia , I’d recommend this set to anyone as an example of one of the 20th-century’s great conductors doing what he did best.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

Coppélia by Léo Delibes
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1870; France 
Sylvia: Suite by Léo Delibes
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1876; France 
Daphnis et Chloé Suite no 2 by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913; France 

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