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Roussel, Dukas, Chausson / Ansermet, Suisse Romande Orchestra

Ansermet / Orch De La Suisse Romande
Release Date: 06/01/2010 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4800041   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Albert RousselPaul DukasErnest Chausson
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Import   
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



ROUSSEL Symphonies: No. 3; No. 4. Petite Suite. Le Festin d’araignée. DUKAS L’Apprenti sorcier. La Péri. CHAUSSON Symphony Ernest Ansermet, cond; Suisse Romande O DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 0041 (2 CDs: 154:49)


In Fanfare 32:4 I reviewed a single Eloquence release of these same performances of Read more the Chausson Symphony and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice . Now that Eloquence is in the process of reissuing Ansermet’s complete Decca output, the earlier disc has been superseded by this double-CD set. The Fauré items on the earlier issue will no doubt turn up elsewhere, if they haven’t already. Only the Petite Suite is new to CD; the Roussel symphonies and ballet appeared as part of a Decca Ansermet edition in the 1990s. The Roussel sessions date from the mid 1950s, La Péri from 1958, and the remaining Dukas and Chausson items from the mid to late 1960s.


The Roussel items display all the pluses and minuses of Ansermet’s recordings of that time. The pluses are many (outweighing the minuses). First and most importantly, the great Swiss conductor knew how these pieces should go. He had an infallible sense of the right tempo, and his insistence on clarity and balance allowed the orchestral texture to register cleanly without thickening—a great asset in Roussel. His early years as a pit conductor gave him a sharp awareness of dramatic incident in a ballet score, and he prioritized the music’s function of illustrating a specific scenario. This is readily apparent in Dukas’s La Péri and even more so in Roussel’s The Spider’s Feast , in which the urgency of Ansermet’s pacing serves to remind us that this insect ballet is literally concerned with matters of life and death.


Ansermet’s style has been described as “the poetry of precision,” a phrase that sums up these performances neatly. In the symphonies he is one of the few conductors to effectively marry a French lightness of touch with the Beethoven-like propulsion that drives these vital works. The Third Symphony is notable for the tightness of the statements of the motto theme heard in the first and final movements (and which is the thematic basis of the slow movement). With Ansermet there is no slowing down in preparation for the motif’s first appearance; it simply leaps out of nowhere while the energy of the preceding music is maintained. Again in the symphony’s closing bars Ansermet plays it straight, adding no compromising grand pause before the final note. In the Fourth Symphony’s first movement he launches into the allegro at a brisker pace than usual, robbing it of the weightiness it has in other recordings. (Denève did the same thing in his recent Naxos recording, but his band—the Royal Scottish National Orchestra—is nowhere near as crisp as the Suisse Romande. The Fourth is the one weak performance in Denève’s otherwise excellent cycle.)


The performances of Chausson’s symphony and Dukas’s tone poem are particularly fine. In both works, Ansermet’s complete identification with the music results in sure pacing and, as ever, clarity of detail. For all his precision, you feel he is totally involved in the music: how perfectly he handles the passionate climaxes and resolutions of Chausson’s slow movement. In the symphony’s virile finale, and similarly through the rising panic of the would-be sorcerer’s dilemma, Ansermet knows not to rush the tempo. The excitement is all the more palpable for his restraint.


The minuses concern the Suisse Romande Orchestra, which Ansermet founded in Geneva in 1918. This orchestra has often been described as “not of the first rank.” What does that actually mean? In the Roussel symphonies it means a moment or two of imperfect ensemble (suggesting the band was in unfamiliar territory or that the sessions were more rushed than usual), a tentativeness in the horn section, a thin violin sound and, worst of all in Symphony No. 3, a reedy oboe with a sour tone and no smooth transition between registers. The recording may have exacerbated these characteristics, although oddly enough the sound is fuller and warmer in the Petite Suite and The Spider’s Feast, which were taped in 1954, two years before the symphonies. Once we get to the 1960s stereo recordings, the sound quality has improved considerably: Strings no longer sound thin or edgy, and the principal oboe has evidently been replaced.


These criticisms should not be given more weight than they deserve. The crucial point remains that the orchestra plays exactly the way Ansermet wants it to, and his interpretations of this repertoire continue to set a high standard. To take one current comparison: The complete Spider’s Feast ballet was recorded a few years back by Eschenbach and the Paris Orchestra. The sound on that Ondine release is light years ahead of Decca’s, textures are smooth, all the solo instruments sound beautiful, and Eschenbach draws out the impressionistic atmosphere for all it’s worth. (Timings tell the story: Eschenbach takes 33:14 to Ansermet’s 28:54.) Eschenbach’s is a performance to revel in, but Ansermet is the one who tells a gripping story and makes the music matter.


FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

1.
Le festin de l'araignée, Op. 17: Fragments symphoniques by Albert Roussel
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912; France 
Date of Recording: 1954 
2.
Symphony no 3 in G minor, Op. 42 by Albert Roussel
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929-1930; France 
Date of Recording: 1956 
3.
Symphony no 4 in A major, Op. 53 by Albert Roussel
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; France 
Date of Recording: 1956 
4.
Petite Suite, Op. 39 by Albert Roussel
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929; France 
5.
La péri by Paul Dukas
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1911-1912; France 
6.
L'apprenti sorcier by Paul Dukas
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1897; France 
7.
Symphony in B flat major, Op. 20 by Ernest Chausson
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1889-1890; France 

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