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Sibelius: Sym No 2&4/Rachmaninov: Isle Of
Ernest Ansermet
Sibelius: Sym No 2&4/Rachmaninov: Isle Of
Genre: Classical
 
While it remains a pity that Ansermet didn't venture further into the bleaker landscapes of Sibelius, less may well be more, and these epic recordings of the Second and Fourth symphonies, together with a raw reading of Tap...  more »

     
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CD Details

All Artists: Ernest Ansermet
Title: Sibelius: Sym No 2&4/Rachmaninov: Isle Of
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Eloquence
Release Date: 5/24/2008
Album Type: Import
Genre: Classical
Style:
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 028948000449

Synopsis

Album Description
While it remains a pity that Ansermet didn't venture further into the bleaker landscapes of Sibelius, less may well be more, and these epic recordings of the Second and Fourth symphonies, together with a raw reading of Tapiola are collected together on CD for the first time. The mood of desolation continues with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra's recording of Rachmaninov's hypnotic tone poem The Isle of the Dead.
 

CD Reviews

Stirring, If Imperfectly Played, Sibelius from Ansermet
Johannes Climacus | Beverly, Massachusetts | 03/03/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Though Ansermet is remembered mostly for his interpretations of French and Russian repertoire, his recorded legacy for Decca/London shows just how broad his musical sympathies were. I am delighted that the Australian Eloquence label is apparently planning an extensive Ansermet edition, if only because it will reveal to younger listeners the versatility of this remarkable musician.

One of the recent reissues in this series is this dual album featuring Ansermet's complete commercial recordings of Sibelius (Symphonies 2, 4 and *Tapiola*) in tandem with Rachmaninov's *Isle of the Dead.* If the conjunction of Sibelius and Rachmaninov seems odd at first, upon reflection one can hear all sorts of correspondences between these two masters of melancholy, however different the Slavic and Finnish muses may be.

How, then, does Ansermet fare as a Sibelian? Surprisingly well: The conductor's characteristic cool-headedness and flair for drama coupled with his penchant for textural clarity are particularly suited to music that evokes uninhabitable Northern wastes and tragic conflict between man and the impersonal forces of nature.

The Second Symphony benefits particularly from an unsentimental approach that reveals the work's elemental tensions as it discloses just how perfectly crafted is Sibelius's early effort at cyclic form. The opening may seem slow, but Ansermet's characteristically balletic rhythmic lift keeps the long first movement from bogging down. The Scherzo is also taken at a broader than usual tempo, and for once it doesn't sound frenetic; one can savor Sibelius's magnificent scoring. The finale builds inexorably to a coda of shattering impact. Throughout this performance the Suisse Romande orchestra are on their best collective behavior, though listeners not familiar with the sound of this ensemble (at this period anyway) may find the nasal, and at times sour tone of the winds annoying.

The SRO are below their best, unfortunately, in the great Fourth Symphony. Winds and horns offend occasionally with poor intonation, and there are some scrambles. But what an interpretation! Ansermet takes no prisoners here. This is one of the darkest, bleakest, most harrowing accounts of the score that I have heard; again, in part due to slower than average tempos that serve to prolong the tragic narrative and its grim dénouement. For those who care, Ansermet opts for tubular chimes rather than glockenspiel in the final movement (a mistake, I think; with the seemingly carefree tinntinnabulations of the glockenspiel the music takes on an even more macabre edge).

*Tapiola*, unlike the two Symphonies, is rather briskly dispatched. There is no want of atmosphere, however; Ansermet's total mastery of the work's shifing rhythmic cells and kaleidoscopic orchestration manage to evoke the requisite sense of mystery, and of terror, even if the famous snowstorm episode goes by too quickly (Karajan is one of the few conductors who dared to play this passage for all it is worth, with an agonizingly slow build-up). Nevertheless, this is one of the better *Tapiolas* on record; as with Ansermet's Fourth, the total effect can only be described in the words of T.S. Eliot: "The chill ascends from feet to knees, / the fever sings in mental wires./ If to be warmed then I must freeze / And quake in frigid, purgatorial fires . . ."

After such chilling evocations of mystery and mortality, the listener may be too traumatized for a musical journey to the Underworld. But do persevere through Rachmaninov's remarkable exercise in expressionistic impressionism (to coin a seemingly contradictory phrase); for Ansermet proves a singularly insightful guide to the shimmering, dream-crossed currents of the composer's haunted Isle. This may not be the spookiest *Isle* on record, but it is surely among the most melancholy. Overall the Paris Conservatoire plays with greater technical assurance in this work than the Suisse Romande plays in the Sibelius.

The sound, as usual for Decca's Parisian and Genevan exploits during this period (1955 for the Rachmninov, 1963 for the Sibelius) is quite stunning. The remastering conveys brilliance and amplitude in equal measure.

Strongly recommended, then, if the utmost in perfection of execution is not required. Stout-hearted Sibelians, in particular, should hear Ansermet's way with their favorite composer."
Vintage but Unusal Ansermet
W. R. Whittle | Cornelius, NC USA | 12/07/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"At one time the conventional opinion of Ansermet was that his specialty was French and Russian music, with an emphasis on 20th century masters. However, for Decca he also recorded many other composers, including Beethoven, Brahms, and even a couple of Bach Orchestral Suites, all available from Amazon on the Australian Decca/Eloquence label.

The primary characteristics of Ansermet's conducting are clarity and articulation, resulting in musical performances at the service of the composer. He avoided the histrionics that sometimes mars the conducting of more ego-driven conductors. He also had the advantage of excellent Decca engineering, even in the mono recordings. I believe this is the first CD release of the Sibelius recordings.

The booklet says the Sibelius recordings are stereo, and the Rachmaninoff mono. However, the latter sounds like an early Decca stereo recording: not that much separation, but I do hear the violins on the left, and the recording shows some depth and spread - it's quite enjoyable. The 1954 recording was orignally released as a mono LP (Decca LXT5003), coupled with Dukas' La Peri. However, some years ago the latter was released in stereo as a Decca/London CD (London 433-714) as part of an Asnermet edition. I also have an early stereo London "Blueback" LP of the Dukas, but coupled with Debussy's Jeux (London CS6043, Decca SXL2027). Finally, the Rachmaninoff was included in an EMI Great Conductors of the 20th Century edition (EMICZS575094). This sounds like a stereo recoridning, quite similar to the Decca release.

My conclusion: program notes to the contrary, all the recordings are stereo

Concerning the Rachmaninoff performance, the Gramophone critic says of the original release "...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...". Again, I agree.

The curiosity for me is the Sibelius Second Symphony, which I had never heard in my over 50 years of collecting and listening to classical music. However, research revealed that it was originally released in the USA as a London LP CS6408 (Decca SXL6100 in the UK). When released, the Gramophone critic said "...Ansermet gives a remarkably understanding reading of this symphony and since he is superbly recorded, I think it a winner.". . I concur, though the third movement is taken a little slower than usual, but the last movement is suitable herioic without going over the top.

The Gramophone critic was not so kind concerning the Fourth Symphony, saying that the first and third movements' tempos were too slow. The writer also preferred using the glockenspiel to the tubular bells in the fourth movement - I prefer the latter. Overall, I derived much more pleasure and meaning from the performance than did the Gramophone critic. Tapiola is also a first rate performance, as is all the remastering. Snap this up, especially you Ansermet fans.
"
Consistently Ansermet!
Joseph V. Clisham, Jr. | Baltimore, MD | 11/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The great conductor delivers a highly analytical yet superbly emotional interpretation that truly opens up the Sibelius Second to me in a way that I have never known. Indeed how consistent Ansermet was in doing just that with so many compositions! The unique Suisse Romande with their wonderful old school French winds coupled with splendid and vivid Decca engineering and a most faithful CD transfer makes me want to sample the entire Eloquence line. Highly recommended!"