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.