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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La Mer - Trois esquisses symphoniques (1905) [21:54]
Jeux - Poème dansé (1913) [17:28]
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
La Péri - Poème Dansé (1912) [17:25]
The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1897) [11:02]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (Debussy), Paris Conservatoire Orchestra (Dukas)/Ernest Ansermet
rec. October 1958, Victoria Hall, Geneva (Debussy); 20 September 1954, La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris (Dukas)
ELOQUENCE 482 4975 [67:53]

As we are reminded by François Hudry's English-only liner note, these analogue recordings were facilitated by the birth of the LP. While the sound is clean and remarkably respectable and vigorous, this disc has to be for Ansermet enthusiasts, nostalgia fans and those keen on having an unbroken line of La Mer interpretations. The sound is nothing short of enjoyable but in the case of La Mer you can do better with Ansermet by going for the other stereo version from 1964. In any event, the conductor leaves you in no doubt as to his meticulous accenting and control of tempi and dynamics. This was a conductor whose attentive ways kept him in the good books of Decca. He made four commercial recordings of La Mer. Hudry's notes tell us that the first and second of them, from 1947 and 1951, have been made available in new re-masterings by Eloquence (482 5007 and 480 0127 respectively).

This Eloquence disc offer us two Poemès Dansés: the ones by Debussy and Dukas. The Debussy Jeux, not a work that has caught my attention much before, comes across with as much attentive precision as Ansermet's La Mer. La Péri is a more extreme sultry work and pleasingly we get the 17-minute ballet but shorn of its brief Fanfare with which the Poème Dansé is often harnessed. It is a piece of saturated romantica with conscious or unconscious parallels drawn with Rimsky, Biarent, Ippolitov-Ivanov and even Bax. I recall 'discovering' this work through a Boulez LP where it was coupled with the Roussel Third Symphony (CBS Masterworks 76519). Contrary to expectations - it was not his sort of repertoire, I thought - Boulez made an indulgently excellent job of the piece. There are better recorded versions of La Péri but this Ansermet still sounds respectable and there are pleasures to be had from the listening experience. The Sorcerer's Apprentice has racked up something of a warhorse reputation, what with Fantasia, Mickey Mouse and all. However, under Ansermet's wand it goes freshly, delicately and with a beguiling swing. The fact that this is not the most supple of performances adds to the work's attractions.

The well-presented booklet is adorned with photographs of the original four sleeves. A nice authentic touch which adds to the draw of the disc.

You can do better, but these are very good old recordings of well-tempered interpretations.

Rob Barnett




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