The Ernest Ansermet Collection from Cascavelle
Henri DUTILLEUX (b.1916)
Symphony No.1 (1952) [36:55]
Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Symphony No.4 (1945) [34:04]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. March 1956 (Dutilleux) and March 1976 (Martinu)
CASCAVELLE VEL 3127 [70:02]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op.67 (1807) [39:35]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major Op. 73 Emperor (1810) [33:33]
Rudolf Serkin (piano)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. 27 April 1966, RSR Geneva
CASCAVELLE VEL 3126 [73:11]
Albéric MAGNARD (1865-1914)
Symphony No.3 in B flat minor Op.11 (1896) [37:58]
Vincent D’INDY (1851-1931)
Symphony No. 1 in G Major on a French Mountain Air, Op. 25 ‘Cévenole’ for piano and orchestra Op.25 [26:57]
Robert Casadesus (piano)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. September 1968 (Magnard) and October 1955 (d’Indy)
CASCAVELLE VEL 3128 [63:59]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Symphonie fantastique Op.14 (1830) [50:24]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
A Faust Overture (1839-40) [11:24]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Battle of the Huns (Hunnenschlacht) – symphonic poem (1857) [14:19]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. June 1968, Tokyo (Berlioz); November 1950 Geneva (Wagner); April 1959, Victoria Hall, Geneva (Liszt)
CASCAVELLE VEL 3143 [75:48]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1915) [20:40]
Homenajes [15:19]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Iberia (Images, No.2) (1905/1908) [18:56]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Rapsodie espagnole (1907) [14:22]
Arthur Rubinstein (piano)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. April 1960 (Nights in the Gardens of Spain); February 1960 (Homenajes); September 1958 (Iberia); May 1961 (Rapsodie espagnole), Victoria Hall, Geneva
CASCAVELLE VEL 3134 [69:18]
Cascavelle has celebrated Ansermet in a series of live broadcast discs of which these five form part. A boxed set, which I have also reviewed, is not part of the same edition, and contains strictly studio recordings; many invaluable, some less so, but very useful to have. This company isn’t alone and there have been reviews of the Australian Decca Eloquence discs devoted to the conductor on this site.
Broadcasts however are always potentially revelatory, not least of increased adrenalin levels. These five discs certainly contain a good share of excitement and drama. The first contains a really splendid performance of Dutilleux’s First Symphony performed in 1956, four years after it had been written. Martinon had premiered it, but Ansermet locates its gauzy romantic moments just as much as its more terse ones with unerring precision. As well as a debt to Honegger, we find some spectral sonorities, clarified with analytical perception by the conductor. Ansermet had been a Martinu admirer for a number of years (review); they’d been in touch since the 1930s so when Ansermet broadcast the Czech composer’s Fourth Symphony in 1967 he could look back on many years’ acquaintance with the music. Whilst this isn’t as comprehensively fine a performance as the Dutilleux, it does reveal the breadth of Ansermet’s affinity, and the solidity of his conception. Rhythmic dynamism underpins the performance, and his grip is taut, but relaxes when necessary. It’s impressive.
The all-Beethoven disc gives us a brace of fives. The Fifth Symphony and the Fifth Piano Concerto derive from the same 1966 concert. The symphony is big-boned, a bit stolid, with a rather heavy tread. I can’t say I was captivated. The Concerto is with Rudolf Serkin and he plays straightforwardly, though occasionally a little heavily too. Much more valuable is the Magnard and d’Indy disc. I think this live performance of the Magnard Third Symphony is just that bit more electric than the studio recording [Decca Eloquence 4429992]. This broadcast was one of a brief series of trials for that commercial disc but Ansermet clearly had it under his belt. It’s mysterious, lyrical and beautifully shaped – both work and performance. If you only really know Plasson as the great Magnard conductor, try to lend an ear to Ansermet. The coupling is d’Indy’s slightly odd, diffuse but very atmospheric Symphonie sur un chant montagnard ‘Cévenole’, for piano and orchestra. The soloist is the ever-marvellous Robert Casadesus, whose playing is truly inspired. It was taped in 1955.
Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique was taped on tour in Tokyo in 1968. Again this is more exciting than the studio inscription he left, and it clearly had an effect on the audience, who – according to the booklet notes – besieged the octogenarian conductor afterwards. It gathers incrementally in theatrical drama, is cannily paced and excitingly delivered. In fact that’s the common currency of this disc because Wagner’s A Faust Overture comes next (Geneva, 1950) in a powerful reading, made the more useful given that he didn’t record it commercially. The disc ends with Liszt, whose symphonic poem Hunnenschlacht is seldom heard in the concert hall. This 1959 performance is suitably fiery, even more so than his studio reading.
Finally we have a ‘Spanish’ compilation, and a most seductive one as well. Rubinstein is the third of a stellar trio of pianists to appear in these discs, and he plays de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain. Maybe it’s not quite as enticing as the pianist’s St Louis/Golschmann studio outing (review) but it is resonantly played and the ensemble is first class. You’ll seldom hear Homenajes conducted with the kind of astute appreciation of structure and sonority that Ansermet displays here. And Iberia receives a highly persuasive performance as well. Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole is on a par with the commercial recording.
There are decent trilingual notes.
One’s ability to pick and choose pays dividends here. I would rank these five in order of interest – starting with the most enticing – as; Magnard, Dutilleux, the Spanish disc, Berlioz, then Beethoven.
Jonathan Woolf
These five discs certainly contain a good share of excitement and drama.