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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
The Seasons Ballet Op. 67 [35:50]; Concert Waltz No. 1 in D major Op 47 [8:12]; Concert Waltz No. 2 in F major Op. 51 [8:21]; Stenka Razin Symphonic Poem Op. 13 [14:48]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Op. 9 (orch. Glazunov, Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov, Tcherepnin) [26:43]
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)
Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture [5:28]; Kamarinskaya Fantasy [6:46]; A Life for the Tsar Overture [9:12]; Valse-Fantasie [8:23]; Jota Argonesa [9:23]
Anatoly LIADOV (1855-1914)
Baba-Yaga Op. 56 [2:59]; Kikimora Op. 63 [6:15]; Chants populairs Russes Op. 58 [12:52]
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, 1954-1966
DECCA ELOQUENCE 4800038 [79:31 + 76:52] 
Experience Classicsonline

The continuing stream of Eloquence reissues of performances by this orchestra and conductor makes one realise how much they recorded and how little appreciated they were by many at the time. Certainly the orchestra does not have the kind of virtuoso brilliance that starrier orchestras of the period had, and Ansermet does not produce the kind of show off performance that would have an obvious instant impact. Nonetheless this slower than usual performance of Ruslan and Ludmilla does enable the listener to hear and enjoy much more of the actual music. The sound of the orchestra may be somewhat plain at times, but I found myself increasingly enjoying the very characterful sounds of the somewhat acid first oboe and watery flute, and not bothering about some occasional lack of power in the strings. The music comes across clearly and that is what matters.

Largely this is a matter of balance, and whilst the engineers must certainly be congratulated this is all of a piece with the conductor’s careful approach to his craft and understanding of the music. The kind of transparent sound and clear textures that are achieved over and over again here are not the result of chance or merely of good microphone placement; they are the outcome of proper care to ensure that all strands of the texture can be heard without obscuring each other or being obscured. Admittedly there are occasions when some degree of thinness is apparent or where the kind of ripe string sound beloved of so many conductors might be missed, but increasingly I found this irrelevant to the fundamental character of the music. 

The lion’s share is given to Glazunov. The Seasons probably is still his best known score despite the energy that has gone into recording other of his orchestral works in recent years. There are good reasons for this. In its relatively brief length it includes all the expected ingredients of Russian ballet music, and it leaves one of its best tunes to the end – the Bacchanale of Autumn - leaving the audience happy and wanting more. I thoroughly enjoyed this very idiomatic and rhythmically alive performance. I should point out for completeness that there is a curious cut at the start of the Variation “Le Satyr” in Autumn of some six pages of score – about a minute of music. Presumably this is a normal theatrical cut and it does not in any way affect the musical logic or enjoyment of the work. 

The two Concert Waltzes are comparatively well known, and are always worth hearing especially in such stylish performances. I find that my attention tends to wander during Stenka Razin, but Ansermet does what he can for it and at least it is a relatively compact piece. 

The orchestration of Carnaval was made for performances in St Petersburg in 1910, and apparently was shared between Glazunov, Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov and Tcherepnin. It would have been interesting if the booklet had indicated who arranged which piece although there are no great changes of style between them. I had not heard it before and very much enjoyed it once I had put memories of the original behind me. It helps to treat it as simply as colourful and unusually imaginative ballet music. You will then not be worried unduly about any loss of the character and ambiguity that the original has, and be less likely to bother about the cuts both within the music and of the whole of Réplique.

The short works by Glinka and Liadov are very enjoyable – well played and recorded clearly, even if their age does show at times. All in all this is yet another very welcome reissue from Eloquence, full of good and perhaps unexpected things.

John Sheppard

see also Review by Brian Wilson


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