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Buywell Just Classical

Ernest Ansermet - Royal Ballet Gala
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1993)
Nutcracker suite, op.71a (1892) [17:47]
March [2:30]
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy [1:44]
Arabian dance [3:35]
Chinese dance [1:07]
Dance of the Mirlitons [2:18]
Waltz of the Flowers [6:33]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868), arr. Respighi
La Boutique Fantasque (1919), excerpts [6:45]
Tarantella [2:06]
Andantino mosso [2:38]
Can-can [2:01]
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Coppélia (1870), excerpts [12:58]
Prelude – Mazurka [4:20]
Introduction and Waltz [2:57]
Czárdás (danse hongroise) [3:40]
Valse de la poupée [2:01]
Adolphe Charles ADAM (1803-1856)
Giselle (1841), excerpts [9:46]
Introduction and Waltz [5:04]
Pas de deux and Variation [4:42]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1993)
Swan Lake, op.20 (1877), excerpts [18:53]
Scène (moderato) [3:10]
Danse des petits cygnes (moderato) [1:22]
Pas de deux [6:34]
Valse [7:47]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856), orch. Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov
Carnaval, op.9 (1910) [4:57]
Pierrot [1:10]
Reconnaissance [1:36]
Pantalon et Colombine [1:07]
Aveu [1:04]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1993)
The Sleeping Beauty, op.66 (1890), excerpts [15:23]
Introduction: prologue – the Lilac Fairy [4:42]
Rose Adagio [6:15]
Valse [4:26]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849), orch. Douglas
Les Sylphides, (1909), excerpts [9:18]
Prélude [1:46]
Mazurka [1:55]
Valse [5:37]
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Ernest Ansermet
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, January 1959
DECCA ELOQUENCE 4429986 [47:55 + 48:57] 


Experience Classicsonline

The rediscovery and re-evaluation of Ernest Ansermet (1883-1969), currently being promoted by a mass of reissues of his recordings on the enterprising Australian Eloquence label, continues apace. This new 2-CD set gives listeners a useful overview of the Swiss conductor’s style as showcased in some much-loved ballet scores. 

Ansermet, notable for expressing an early interest in jazz music, was really rather more progressive in his favoured repertoire than these discs might suggest.  Attached to Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes from 1916, in the following decade he gave the first performances of important works by Satie, Stravinsky, de Falla and Prokofiev.  But, whatever his personal inclinations, two circumstances forced him over time to take on a rather wider range of music. 

In the first place, Ansermet remained a jobbing musician focused on putting the Suisse Romande Orchestra that he had formed in 1918 onto a sound financial footing - and hence necessarily adopting a popular programming policy.  And, secondly, in the great post-war rush to sign European artists to exclusive contracts, Ansermet was snapped up by Decca and, over the following two decades tasked with recording a wide, solid foundation of repertoire for that company’s ground-breaking FFRR (Full Frequency Range Recording) technology (later relabelled as FFSS – Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound).  It is often said, in fact, that it was one of Ansermet’s first Decca FFRR recordings – of Stravinsky’s Petrushka – that made the listening audience aware for the first time of the possibilities of the new “high fidelity” sound. 

When, however, he conducted the music on these discs in 1959, Ansermet was fortunate to have the Covent Garden orchestra at his disposal.  Though never less than competent, the Suisse Romande was never quite in the forefront of European orchestras and, with the conductor generally rejecting extreme tempi in favour of those appropriate for real-life dancers on a stage, the London musicians’ idiomatic and sensitive approach to these scores is never in doubt.  You won’t get the over-the-top excitement of, say, Svetlanov in Tchaikovsky here, but what you will get are well conceived and constructed interpretations that, while not playing to the gallery, are entirely satisfying. 

Everything on offer here is, in fact, most enjoyable.  Indeed, if, like me, you tend to have avoided “highlights” discs since your days as a classical music novice (thank goodness for school gramophone record libraries, if any still exist!) then you’ll probably enjoy this disc of unashamed “best bits” all the more.  Ansermet was well known for his empathy with Russian repertoire, so the fact that the Tchaikovsky scores go very well comes as no surprise.  But both the rumbustious elements of Coppélia and La Boutique Fantasque (also recorded in full by Ansermet and the London Symphony Orchestra) and the more lyrical moments of Giselle and Les Sylphides are equally successful.

In spite of rapidly approaching their 50th birthday, these recordings remain very fine with an almost ideal combination of brightness and warmth.  The booklet notes are commendable too, offering a useful introduction that puts the music into its proper context. 

My only quibble is, in fact, the short measure.  A total of less than 100 minutes spread over two CDs is really not acceptable in my book, even when they record performances that will, no doubt, give as much pleasure to many listeners as they first did almost half a century ago.
Rob Maynard


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