Ansermet: In Memoriam (Stravinsky, Debussy, et al.) - Decca SLA 25031-D/1-5 (5LP box)
Box NM- / LPs NM
This handsome 5LP box set – a fine collector’s copy – from Decca (SLA 25031-D/1-5, German pressing, blue label – ED1, stereo, cloth box, booklet included) entitled “In Memoriam · Ernest Ansermet” features a lavish tribute to the great Swiss conductor.
So many endless apologies are made for the alleged short-comings of the Suisse Romande Orchestra that a critical bias has nearly rendered their every Decca recording an also-ran. These ‘faults’ have been exaggerated, and how well they play against the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is less important than how well they play Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, et al. And they play all of this music superbly, and for this listener at least, Ansermet’s Daphnis et Chloe is among the finest ever recorded, so rich in telling detail and atmosphere.
Across 5 LPs are preserved some of his greatest recording with l’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, and very much reflecting Ansermet’s core repertoire and strengths. For all those who admire this great conductor this set will prove a handsome addition to any Ansermet collection. Moreover, the transfers – like the entire production itself – are absolutely first rate.
The exact contents are as follows (all works recorded at Victoria Hall, Geneva):
Debussy: La Mer
> rec. in December 1964
Debussy: Trois Nocturnes
> rec. in November 1957 (with the Women's Chorus of the Suisse Romande in Sirènes)
Arguably representing the high-water marks among Ansermet's recorded Debussy legacy, these accounts boast the remarkable Decca engineering that typified the 'Golden Age of Stereo', recorded in the warm, atmospheric acoustics of Geneva's Victoria Hall. Ansermet knew Debussy and his interpretations carry an authority and feeling few have matched, with L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande on resplendent form throughout. Essential Debussy performances.
Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe
> rec. in May 1964 (with the Chorus of Radio Romande, Lausanne; Chorus Master: André Charlet)
Ansermet knew the composer and with those of Charles Munch and Pierre Monteux, this Daphnis et Chloe remains among the great accounts of this work from the 'Golden Age of Stereo', with a shimmering, diaphanous power and beauty – simply and truly stunning, with demonstration quality stereo sound to match.
Ravel: Alborada del gracioso
> rec. in November 1960
> rec. in April 1963
Honegger: Pacific 231 · Mouvement symphonique No. 1
> rec. in April 1963
Stravinsky: l’Oiseau de feu (The Firebird)
> rec. in May 1955
As one of Stravinsky's most steadfast champions, Ansermet had known this score intimately for over 30 years, and brings tremendous authority and a lifetime's wisdom. This is truly one The Firebird's great performance on disc, hypnotic from first to last – a wonderful, thrilling, vibrant, poetic reading – unforgettable!
> rec. in October 1957
Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps (The rite of spring)
In his review of the Decca Eclipse LP Ansermet’s recording of l’Oiseau de feu, the critic M.E.O. wrote in his August 1978 review for The Gramophone:
“Stravinsky described Ansermet as ‘a perfect executant of my works’, praising especially ‘his faculty for seeing what is actually in the score’, his lack of any ‘determination to find there what he would like to find’. Fidelity and precision are indeed the prime characteristics of these performances and there must be many listeners who are grateful for having learned their Stravinsky from them…In Arisermet, Stravinsky found an interpreter as insistent as he was himself on letting the notes speak for themselves, with the minimum of subjective 'interpretation', wouldbe effective gestures and dramatic exaggerations…Here and in The Rite and in The Firebird, Stravinsky's orchestral colours have a vivid clarity, the phrasing a sharp pungency; one is made freshly aware, too, of how much delicacy and subtlety of sound there is in these scores. Stravinsky again: ‘Ansermet's merit lies precisely in his ability to reveal the relationship between the music of today and that of the past by purely musical means.
“Brief summaries, then, of my notes on Ansermet's Stravinsky revisited. ECS 817: a lyrical, Rimskyan Firebird. Much delicacy and tenderness (the Princesses' Dance exquisitely done); edges finely moulded (the wind solos in the Prelude, for example) rather than sharp or hard; a good sense of drama (Kashchei makes a formidable entrance) but a certain lack of Slav luridness; a richly glowing crescendo to the final wedding scene; good, clear recording.”
Included is a full-size, 8-page booklet with an eloquent appreciation of Ernest Ansermet’s artistry by composer Arthur Honegger, no less, as well as archival photographs of the conductor, a list of his Decca discography (at that time) and notes on the music (all texts printed in German only).
The gradations of condition I use are as follows: MINT, Near-Mint, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor.
The condition of the sturdy cloth box is NM-. There are a couple of small chips to the front panel, as well as a bit of shelfwear and aging. However, there are no corner breaks, seamsplits, owners’ markings, bends, or other defects, and the box remains perfectly solid, bright, and striking in appearance – overall, a fine collector's copy.
The condition of the full-size 8-page booklet is EXCELLENT. It betrays some handling, but that is all. There are no markings, tears, or bends, and the pages remain bright and crisp, the binding perfect.
The condition of the 5 LPs is near-MINT. Although the surfaces are not absolutely silent (and thus I have rated it NM vs. MINT) these are fine copies and playback is superb. If you must have flawless surfaces, then please do not buy this set – these rate as NM collector's copies.