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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures from an Exhibition (1874, orch. Ravel) [31:00]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
La Valse [12:41]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Rossiniana, P148 [22:50]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, April 1958 (Mussorgsky and Ravel), February 1967 (Respighi). ADD
ELOQUENCE 4824983 [66:50]

I knew that Ansermet had recorded Pictures from an Exhibition in the early LP era in mono and again in 1959 in stereo. I owned the former in its Ace of Clubs reincarnation and it’s due for reissue in August 2018, on Ansermet in Russia (Eloquence 4825003, with music by Borodin, Glinka, Prokofiev and more Mussorgsky). I reviewed the Eloquence reissue of the 1959 recording some time ago.

I didn’t realise that Ansermet had also recorded the work in 1958 when, inexplicably, Decca failed to release it. It now first sees the light of day in the company of another Ansermet recording being released for the first time in stereo and one of his last recordings, from 1967. Why it was never released, despite having been allocated a ghost LP catalogue number, seems inexplicable.

There’s some waveriness in the opening Promenade but overall the performance and recording are very similar in quality to the Eloquence reissue of the 1959 recording, the orchestral playing and sound quality noticeably superior to the earlier mono – where there are some odd duff notes – though the performance lacks a little of the energy of that earlier version. It’s good to be able to stream both and compare them: though the mono sound is inevitably rather thin, it has come up well, but I wonder if the engineers have smoothed out the dynamics in Gnomus. As I recall from the Ace of Clubs LP, that had more of a punch than on the CD release of the same recording. Then again, the Decca engineers notoriously beefed up the treble and sometimes tinkered with the level on ACL and Eclipse reissues.

The Great Gate of Kiev should bring the show to a close with a bang. Even 1958 stereo doesn’t quite allow Ansermet to do that with total conviction but otherwise it comes pretty close to being one of the most exciting without overdoing it. I’m surprised to see that the mono version was noticeably broader – grander, if less exciting – than either of the stereo remakes.

4824983 continues with the same coupling as that old ACL. La Valse is not my favourite Ravel, mainly because of the acerbity of its ending, which Ansermet brought out to perfection in both mono and stereo, though he also conveys the gentler aspects of the work. Please note that this is the coupling, not Tzigane as some dealers are advertising.

I see that Trevor Harvey, whose reviews in Gramophone, along with those of Edward Greenfield, largely guided my LP purchases in the 1960s and 70s, didn’t much care for either Rossiniana or the performance of it – or, indeed for the Tchaikovsky Mozartiana with which it was originally coupled on SXL6312, now reissued on Eloquence 4800557 (2 CDs, with Ansermet’s very fine Nutcracker and Suite No.3). Don’t expect too much of this lightweight confection and you’ll find it an enjoyable round-off to the new reissue.

Neither this nor the earlier Eloquence CD of the 1959 Pictures would be my first choice, even at lower-mid-price1, but you won’t go far wrong with either. Which you choose can safely be determined by the coupling. Subscribers to the ever-useful Naxos Music Library who already have the earlier Eloquence CD, should also stream the new album there.

1 Prices for Eloquence CDs and downloads seem to vary widely between dealers.  You should find the single CDs for less than 8, yet some dealers are asking over 9 or even 10 for this and those who offer both formats frequently charge more for Eloquence downloads than for the discs.

Brian Wilson

 




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