Ansermet: Rachmaninov Isle of the Dead / Dukas La Peri - London LL-1155
Jacket: EX / Vinyl: NM / UK pressing
This beautiful and rare LP from London (LL 1155, LP pressed in England by Decca / jacket printed in the USA/ red/gold label, mono – no stereo edition exists) features Ernest Ansermet’s magnificent accounts of Rachmaninov’s symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead Op. 29 and Dukas’ La péri - poème dansé*, both recorded with L’Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire in the spacious acoustics of the Maison de la Mutualité, Paris on 20* and 23 September 1954.
This is the only composition of Rachmaninov’s to feature in Ansermet’s vast discography and it is imbued with a dark and powerful sense of atmosphere. The Dukas is equally captivating.
Wrote the critic M.M. in her review for the March 1955 issue of The Gramophone:
“Arnold Böcklin's picture The Isle of the Dead depicts a rock rising out of the sea, with cypresses surrounding an inlet; a boat approaches, carrying a white coffin and a white-shrouded figure. Rachmaninov chose it as the emotional, rather than the illustrative basis of his symphonic poem, which comes chronologically between his Second and Third Piano Concertos. It is, conventionally, a less characteristic work than those, in the sense that those warm, nostalgic tunes with arpeggio accompaniments are missing. They would indeed be singularly inappropriate to the desolate scene concerned; and it is interesting, and rewarding, to hear Rachmaninov for once in a different and more sombre mood.
“Especially as he is so well presented : a first-class Decca recording offers every advantage to a good performance by Ansermet and the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra.The style of the Rachmaninov is in fact not altogether unlike that of the Dukas on the back, without the chromaticisms. It is an interesting pairing, as the works were separated in date of composition only by four or five years. Both the recording and performance of La Peri are comparable with those of the Rachmaninov.”
Were Ansermet’s recording of The Isle of the Dead to receive a proper digital transfer (by Dutton Laboratories, for example), it would be much more highly regarded than it is (EMI’s transfer of it in their “Great Conductors of the 20th Century” CD re-issue was not quite what one hoped. It distills a powerful atmosphere, deep and brooding, with a dark undertow to it.
There are insightful liner notes on the reverse side of the jacket by Felix Aprahamian, printed in English only. The wonderful cover art is uncredited, alas.