Julian Grant | London, Beijing, New York | 09/21/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This should be an essential part of any Russian music lover's library. Ansermet had a particular affinity with this repertoire, and the very distinctive sound of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande make this a very endearing and memorable release. It's a paradox, but though Rimsky's orchestral pallette is opulent and technicolour in the extreme, it is not particularly lush in the R.Straussian sense - the timbres separate, and the clarity of the texturing in these OSR performances make every subtlety of the orchestration apparent: listen to the different ways Rimsky scores the same E major chord in the first movement of 'Scheherazade' - on this recording every register change tells. Rimsky's warhorses get affectionate and detailed readings, but the main attractions here are the slightly off-beat repertoire. The suite from 'Christmas Eve', with its night flight through a ballet of stars, a witches sabbath and an imperial Polonaise: concluding with a koliadka (Ukrainian carol) and sunrise is a wonder: this is music of great breadth and childlike wonder which is unforgettable, here given a faultless performance. It is a shame the sections in this suite are not cued, however. The symphonic poem 'Sadko' is well done- the suite from 'Tsar Saltan' with its memorably titled second movement 'The Tsarina in a barrel at sea' is another classic, and Ansermet paces the discursive and sectional final movement 'The Three Wonders' very well: the portrait of the Swan Princess 'whose beauty is so great and who by night illuminates the earth' is mesmerizing. Two little quibbles: the vocal portions of the 'Snow Maiden' suite are not very pleasant and the 'Flight of the Bumblebee' is a mite arthritic, but this are incidental indeed. Enjoy this wonderfully vivid anthology: it's like a favourite book from childhood recreated in aural terms."
Colorful, Romantic and Consistently Musical
Jeffrey Lee | Asheville area, NC USA | 03/08/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In the past, I have enjoyed other Scheherazades by Ormandy, Monteux, Stokowski, Reiner and Beecham, most notably the latter three. I must now include this marvelous Ansermet after re-acquainting myself with his performance after many years of neglect. While the Suisse Romande Orchestra has never been seen as having quite matched the reputations of the Philadelphia, Chicago Symphony and Concertgebouw Orchestras, it performs so magically and musically here that it seems to transport one on the proverbial flying carpet to exotic lands. Tones are rounded, sweet and golden, yet there is no slighting of drama. As conductor, Ansermet is in no hurry to impress with an eye and ear to sheer virtuosity. He proceeds with an easy flowing, characterful, sensuous style. I haven't heard many more satisfyingly rendered first movements than his. But the same holds true for the other three as well, especially the gorgeously fragrant third movement ( "The Young Prince and the Young Princess" ). Throughout the Ansermet/Suisse Romande performance there is a wonderful songfulness and a pleasing exotic ambiance. In many places, instrumental sounds simply glow....Virtually everything else on these discs is also a nice treat, especially since such brightly varied pieces as Tale of the Tsar Saltan, The Christmas Eve Suite and The Snow Maiden have never been well represented in recordings, though I have enjoyed for some time Svetlanov's Tsar Saltan. All these works of Rimsky-Korsakov reveal one of the finest examples of a composer who possessed the wonderful ability to create splendid color and captivating tunefulness. And, I think, there were few other conductors who had Ernest Ansermet's talent to project these appealing delights with such endearing and satisfying musical expression."
Classic performances by Ansermet
Patrick A Daley | Fredericton, New Brunswick | 01/02/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sometimes it seems one must choose between technical perfection and dramatic interest. Many find this an issue with many of Ansermet's recordings with the Suisse Romande Orchestra. Yet, they have made many wonderful recordings which are still in demand. I confess to being something of an Ansermet fan, and I enjoy many of his recordings of music by Debusssy, Ravel, Chabrier, de Falla, Russian music, even most of his set of Beethoven symphonies. I just have an affinity for what he does with a lot of music.
Ansermet's 1961 recording of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade has long been recognized as a classic of the gramophone, both for the performance and the recording. I had never really warmed up to Scheherazade before, though I have well regarded recordings by Haitink and Kondrashin on CD, but this recording has changed my perception. I love it. This performance is well accented, not always smooth; it has dramatic characterization and contrast rather than technical perfection; it has life and sparkle. The violin soloist, Lorand Fenyves, who gave a totally idiomatic performance, deserves special mention. Which is more important to you, technical perfection or life and drama?
The recordings is not only astonishingly good for its age, and indeed, stands up very well today. The string sound is smooth, the image wide and expansive.
The Tsar Saltan Suite is another classic, a vintage Decca recording. I have long had this on LP and always liked the cutesy march in the first movement, which tells us the story is not so serious, a children's tale really. Again, the playing is always colorful and well characterized to suit the story. The depiction of the young tsarina and her child in the barrel on the sea is suitably tragic, and the depiction of the three wonders is suitably cheerful. My inner child loves it. As has often been pointed out, The Flight of the Bumblebee from the opera, recorded somewhat earlier, is not as fast as some have done it, but one can easily imagine it in a ballet.
This set also has Ansermet's famous recordings of May Night--overture, Christmas Eve--suite, Sadko--musical picture, and Russian Easter festival overture, as well as a short piece, Dubinushka, all of which I find very enjoyable. The Penguin Guide finds the strings in May Night lack lustre, but the sound is really quite good. The Christmas Eve suite is particularly well done and the sound quality is excellent. I haven't warmed up to The Snow Maiden--suite.
The performances are generally excellent and the sound quality is good to excellent. There is so much good in this set that I think it fully deserves a top rating. Five stars."
More than two hours of utterly enchanting music
G.D. | Norway | 08/22/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This must be one of the most wonderfully atmospheric and magical sets I have ever listened to, and it is indeed a shame that - apart, of course, from Sheherazade - Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestral music (including the suites from the operas) are not better known; the themes are enchanting and memorable, and Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestration is without rivals; he could turn even the most undistinguished of ideas (and his ideas were usually not undistinguished) into something hauntingly evocative through his knowledge of and skillful realization of orchestral colors. The music here might perhaps be accused of being "picture postcard" music, in a sense, but when it conjures up evocative atmospheres of legends and half-lit, lushly mysterious fairytale landscapes as superbly as it does, those are the kinds of things I am prepared to forget and rather let myself be captured by the magical worlds and stories the music conveys. Now, even if you have heard the music in other performances, I would still urge you to consider this disc - Ansermet trades the slightly braying buoyancy and urgency of other readings for a softer, more atmospheric approach, and the music definitely benefits from it.
Ansermet's Sheherazade is thus softer and more mysterious than most rivals, and the half-dreamy, seductive magic of his version is very compelling. It is also generally well performed - some rough parts there is, but e.g. the brass is especially impressive, and while I would myself not, perhaps, hold it to be the best version of this hackneyed (but superb) work, it is eminently worthwhile, even though the recording does admittedly begin to show its age. The May Night overture is also evocatively done, understated and atmospheric rather than glaring, as it is in many other performances (a very good performance of the whole opera - a surprisingly consistently compelling work - under Angelov is available from Capriccio, and I'd recommend it to anyone who warms to the music on these discs). The suite from Tsar Saltan is also wonderfully engaging, and it is particularly good to hear the superbly played orchestral version of the Flight of the Bumble Bee; those who know it only in its usual, pyrotechnically boisterous form for cello and piano will be surprised by the mysteriously urgent, slightly quieter and slower original version.
The Russian Easter Festival Overture sparkles with glittering orchestral colors and unbridled, frenzied power, but does, perhaps, lack the bite of some alternative versions. It is followed by one of the most wonderfully evocative works ever written, however; the suite from Christmas Eve (the whole opera is available, but I have not heard it). And here Ansermet's atmospherically oriented approach really pays dividends, yielding a most captivating musical experience. Dubinushka is also hauntingly performed, and Sadko - ever popular, but a poor substitute for the fabulous complete opera (Gergiev's version is spectacular), is still performed with panache and atmosphere. The Snow Maiden was - apparently - Rimsky's own favorite among his operas (again, Angelov seems to be the one to go for among the complete sets), and is another magical score; especially the utterly charming and evocative "Invocation of the Birds" where the Motet de Genève choir contributes with a fine and idiomatic, if slightly distantly placed, performance.
Sound quality is a little variable - Sheherazade seems to suffer the most - but generally more than acceptable, and never detracting from the magic of the music. In short, then, this disc provides you with more than two hours of (escapist) magic and atmosphere; utterly enchanting and beguiling, and is, I'd say, an essential acquisition, at least for anyone who are at all moved by dreamy, fairy-tale romanticism."