Great Conductors – Ernest Ansermet

0 of 5 stars

Ernest Ansermet
Bartók, Chabrier, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky
Recorded 1953-64

Reviewed by: Bill Newman

Reviewed: August 2002
CD No: IMG Artists CZS 5 75094 2 (2 CDs)

The issue devoted to Ernest Ansermet is a subtle attempt to portray the distinctive clarity of the Master’s approach to repertoire that he was associated strongly with. It somehow does not quite come off, and I don’t understand exactly why!

Nalen Anthoni’s booklet note convinces the reader that the conductor requires certain re-evaluations in the light of comments, statements and new findings, yet, in my view, Ansermet did not always enjoy the fruits of his vast experience, perhaps because his strivings were sometimes analytical and that some orchestras lacked the sympathy of true understanding. I find parts of Stravinsky’s Le Chant du Rossignol (1956, Suisse Romande Orchestra) and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade (1954, Paris Conservatoire) both shapeless and floppy in ensemble. He did the Rimsky better later on. Debussy’s Faune (1956, SRO) is acceptable because of its marvellous refinement.

Bartók’s superb Concerto for Orchestra (1956, SRO) suffers (for me) from a fastidious approach to inner balance and correct dynamics, but this is a personal opinion from one who reveres the opulent Hungarian dynamism of Reiner and Dorati (1956, SRO). Live recordings of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and an accompaniment to Menuhin’s outstanding account of Violin Concerto No.2 show a more exciting and firmer grasp of the composer’s complexities.

Rachmaninov’s prophetic Isle of the Dead (1954, Paris Conservatoire) is undeniably interesting in the way Ansermet pieces the strands together into a whole, varying his instrumental dynamics most carefully. Ravel’s La valse (1953, same forces) is equally compelling – but a certain video clings firmly in the memory where the conductor’s facial intensity added so much more charisma. Chabrier’s Fête polonaise is the Ansermet we all loved and admired in superb sound – courtesy of my old friend James Lock.

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