> Ansermet Great Conductors series EMI [CF]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Great Conductors of the Twentieth Century

STRAVINSKY Chant du Rossignol
DEBUSSY Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra
RACHMANINOV The Isle of the Dead
RAVEL La Valse
CHABRIER Fête polonaise
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire
Conductor: Ernest Ansermet
Recorded in Paris and Geneva 1953-1964
EMI 7243 5 75094 2 8 [2CDs: 151’10"]

This is part of EMI’s series entitled Great Conductors of the Twentieth Century, each volume of which carries a sticker: ‘contains rare material previously unreleased on CD’.

Ansermet was closely associated with Stravinsky and for eight years (1915-1923) was conductor of the Ballets Russes. He also formed the Suisse Romande Orchestra in 1918 and conducted it for almost half a century giving premieres of Falla’s Three-cornered Hat, Ravel’s La Valse and Stravinsky’s Chant du Rossignol, the last two included on this generous CD. He was a regular guest with the BBC from its earliest days and a prolific recording conductor, dubbed ‘Uncle Ernie’ by Decca. He was not only interested in sonic experimentation but also willing to trust and co-operate with technicians. His success in the medium is amply exposed here with his clean-cut sounds, transparent orchestral textures and masterly dynamic control.

Stravinsky’s Chant du Rossignol gets the disc off to a superb start with a colourful account, while Sheherezade, after some uncertain ensemble at the start manages to avoid lumbering along with its bottom-heavy textures because he keeps it on the move. Wind solos are somewhat remotely placed while those for violin and cello are sweetly taken. The French horn has the accustomed wobbly vibrato of the continental European sound. I’m not sure about the overtly sentimental third movement (‘The Young Prince and Young Princess’) but the festive finale fairly zips along in all its exotic colours. Debussy’s faun has a slightly restless afternoon but Bartók’s concerto gets a virtuoso reading from the Suisse Romande in this 1956 recording made in Geneva. In Rachmaninov’s gloomy Isle of the Dead the taxing string parts are beautifully controlled, the sumptuous climax richly textured with brass and winds. While the Ravel has more than an authentic touch in its ravishing style and whirling rhythms, Chabrier’s less familiar festive Polonaise makes a welcome and rousing conclusion to this excellent disc.

Christopher Fifield

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