> Rossini, Respighi, Stravinsky Ansermet [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Boutique Fantasque arr Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Petrushka (1911)
London Symphony Orchestra (Rossini-Respighi)
Suisse Romande Orchestra (Stravinsky)
Ernest Ansermet
Recorded Victoria Hall, Geneva November 1949 (Stravinsky), Kingsway Hall July 1950 (Rossini-Respighi)
SOMM CD 027 [70’16]


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These were amongst the most famous of all early LPs. The Stravinsky came out first and astounded much of the musical world with the clarity and detail of the sound. The performances were equally marvellous and, as we can hear today, Ansermet’s direction was an accumulation of skill and experience such as to mark him as one of the most assured of all Stravinsky conductors. He had first conducted Petrushka for Diaghilev and in 1949 he led his own Suisse Romande Orchestra – which he had founded in 1918 and was to conduct for the next forty-nine years - into the Geneva Studios for a two day session that was to have lasting repercussions.

It was John Culshaw who noted Ansermet’s ability to balance an orchestra without recourse to recording engineers and gave him great credit for these discs’ success saying that it wasn’t simply Decca’s new techniques but also "Ansermet’s quality of sound that gave them such individuality." And that is abundantly true. The balance and clarity is certainly audible but so is the sheer warmth of sound – listen to the rhythmic sophistication and generosity of The Shrovetide Fair or, better still, the piano and trumpet exchanges in Petrushka’s Room. There is tremendous presence and atmosphere here, an absence of distracting surface noise and an internal clarity to Ansermet’s conducting that all cohere to produce a reading of such startling conviction.

Ansermet’s knowledge of the Rossini-Respighi was almost as intimate as Petrushka. He’d first conducted a run of performances, again for Diaghilev, in 1919. This 1950 recording was, unlike the Stravinsky, his only example on record but it’s sufficient to say that it remains a near definitive account of the score. The LSO are in tremendous form and orchestral felicities abound, abetted by Ansermet’s rhythmic malleability and expertise. The bounce and brio of the Introduction and Tarantella are infectious – note the tambourine’s prominence and naturalness – and Ansermet brings out the inner voicings and the chirpily vivacious woodwind. The Mazurka and Scene feature some real delicacy from the strings and elegance from the bassoonist and, it may sound spurious to add but is not, Ansermet’s perfect control of the orchestral pause – judged to absolute perfection. The strings are scintillating and slithery in the Can Can, the trumpets are punchy, we can hear xylophone and triangle with extraordinary clarity and there is a real sense of an in-built drive to the music and that is entirely Ansermet’s doing. This is followed immediately by the Danse lente and notable for other virtues – superb dynamics, sly and witty characterisation, and brilliant orchestral exchanges. The Scene and Nocturne are slightly spooky – deeply atmospheric with their harp and cello solos in the Nocturne and wonderfully sensitive phrasing.

If you missed the original Deccas or their various incarnations over the years here is a perfect opportunity to listen to these milestones of recorded sound and admire once more performances of intoxicating drama, wit and depth.

Jonathan Woolf


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