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CD: Buywell

Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
The Seasons, Op. 67 (1900) [35:50]
Concert Waltz No.1 in D, Op.47 [8:12]
Concert Waltz No.2 in F, Op.51 [8:21]
Robert Schumann (1810-1856), arr. Glazunov, etc.,
Carnaval, Op. 9 (1910) [26:43]
Alexander GLAZUNOV
Stenka Razin, Symphonic Poem, Op.13 (1885) [14:48]
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)
Overture: Ruslan and Ludmilla [5:28]
Kamarinskaya Fantasy [6:46]
Overture: A Life for the Tsar [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, Switzerland, June 1954 (Liadov, Razin), November 1959 (Carnaval), February 1961 (Tsar, Fantasy), April 1964 (Ruslan, Valse, Jota) and May-October 1966 (Seasons, Waltzes). ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 0038 [79:31 + 76:52]
Experience Classicsonline

The Decca Ansermet Legacy, now firmly established with Australian Eloquence, is something of a trip down memory lane. These performances or their mono predecessors provided my introduction to much of the repertoire. Such was the case with the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures from an Exhibition which I reviewed recently and such was also the case with Glazunov’s ballet The Seasons. Is nostalgia enough to justify their reissue now, or can these performances still be competitive in today’s market? In one respect they clearly are competitive, since this super-budget double CD set is offered for much less than most single-CD competitors.
As far as The Seasons is concerned, I believe that this Ansermet recording can hold its own against the current competition. The Suisse Romande may not have been one of the world’s leading orchestras but they always played well and idiomatically for Ansermet and there are very few rough edges here. Ansermet always had quite a way with Russian music and he makes a strong case for Glazunov’s colourful ballet. His version of Stravinsky’s Firebird became a classic: perhaps Eloquence will reissue his recording of this, currently on Double Decca 443 467 2
The main competition comes from Naxos, who have three budget-price versions of The Seasons: Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Lenard (8.550079, with five excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty), Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Anissimov on 8.553915 (with Scènes de Ballet, etc., a three-star version for Rob Barnett – see review) and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kolchinsky on 8.554049 (with Ilya Kaler in the Violin Concerto). The oldest of these, the Lenard, has provided me with very serviceable accounts of both works for some time and the recording is more than adequate. The Tchaikovsky coupling is just right for those occasions when I don’t want to listen to the complete ballet.
Good as the Lenard is, I marginally prefer Ansermet, partly, but not solely, because of his generally slightly livelier tempi. Only in Spring do his blossoms take a little longer, by a mere 7 seconds. The Suisse Romande Orchestra give their regular conductor several little telling extras, too, such as the beautifully smoochy syncopations which they achieve in Autumn and the whole ballet is rounded off in fine style in the Scene and Apotheosis at the end of this movement. This is music to wallow in, ‘played with point and affection’, as one 1967 reviewer aptly put it.
Decca still offer this Ansermet version in their Legends series, coupled with Khachaturian conducting his own ballet music, surely uncompetitive for The Seasons when the single CD costs more than this Eloquence 2-CD set. Another Decca 2-CD set is more competitive: Ashkenazy conducts The Seasons plus Prokofiev’s Cinderella on 455 349 2. If you don’t already have a version of the Prokofiev, this would probably be most people’s first choice. If you’re happy with excerpts from Ashkenazy’s Cinderella, however, you may prefer the Eloquence super-budget coupling of these with excerpts from Solti’s Romeo and Juliet on 467 4592.
The ongoing Serebrier series of the Glazunov Symphonies for Warner couples The Seasons with the Fifth Symphony: Raymond Walker thought the performance sensitive and appealing (2564 61434-2 - see review). If you’re collecting this series you could do much worse, though I’m happy to stay with the Chandos-Polyansky versions of the Symphonies. Järvi couples The Seasons with the Violin Concerto on Chandos CHAN8596: it’s not one of my favourites in this fine series, with Spring sounding a little rushed and Autumn slightly too lethargic. I know that’s how we tend to think of these two seasons, but Lenard and Ansermet sound more appropriate in Spring: Polyansky opens at a flowing tempo but gets a little too fast and Autumn drags ever so slightly from the start. If you want to hear this series at its best, try the Eighth Symphony and Commemorative Cantata on CHAN9961.
Couplings will decide the issue for many. For approximately the price of the single Naxos CD, Eloquence offer three times as much music. CD1 is rounded off with the attractive, almost Straussian, Concert Waltzes, well performed and recorded at the same time as The Seasons, which makes them among the most recent on the two CDs – ADD, but all these 1966 recordings still sound fine. Then comes the Glazunov-Rimsky-Liadov-Tcherepnin ballet arrangement of Schumann’s Carnaval. This kind of pastiche ballet may be less in vogue now than in 1959 but it’s still attractive to hear and sounding even better than when I last encountered it on the Ace of Diamonds LP label, though that reissue was regarded as something of a demonstration recording in its day.
Ansermet also conducted this arrangement of Schumann’s Carnaval with the Royal Opera House Orchestra, a performance reissued on a recent Eloquence 2-CD set, Royal Ballet Gala (442 9986). Rob Maynard’s only complaint was the rather short playing time of this set – see review – but this is offset by the attractive price; otherwise the Covent Garden Orchestra offer rather more polished performances than the Suisse Romande. Performance and recording of Carnaval on the Swiss set sound just a little overblown.
The oldest of these recordings, of Stenka Razin, Kikimora and the Chants Populairs on CD2, date from 1954. Some Decca and RCA recordings of this early-stereo vintage still sound amazingly good but the sound of Stenka Razin in particular is badly dated, boomy and unfocused. Kikimora doesn’t sound too bad, nor do the Chants Populairs, which are welcome because they are receiving their first outing on CD; indeed, I don’t think these attractive performances have any rival in the current catalogue. I hadn’t heard this music before and, while I might not have recognised it as the work of Liadov, it is unmistakably Russian in character.
In fact, all the shorter pieces on CD2 receive idiomatic performances and, while the recording varies according to its vintage, 1954 to 1964, it’s all more than adequate apart from Stenka Razin which, in any case, would not be my major reason for acquiring this set – Shostakovich’s Execution of Stepan Razin may be an altogether tougher work to get to know but the music is head and shoulders over Glazunov’s representation of this folk-hero, despite the latter’s evocation of the Volga Boatmen’s Song.
With colourful presentation and very adequate notes from Colin Anderson, these two well-filled discs should and, I’m sure, will certainly find a ready market at their very reasonable price. Bearing in mind that SXL6269, coupling just The Seasons and the Concert Waltzes, cost 37/9 in 1967, the equivalent of at least £35 in modern currency, the reissue certainly is very good value.
Brian Wilson


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