Mussorgsky-Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition L'OSR/Ansermet (London BB
CS6177). Once again Ansermet turns in a performance that is uniquely
refreshing. The wind and string playing is so vividly characterized
that I enjoyed the earlier portraits much more than usual. Sample No.
1, the "Gnome:" the string players savor their creepy glissandi as if
the effect was just discovered. Normally I don't like a surprise insertion
of a big organ in the end, especially without my consent, but it looks
like Ansermet borrowed from Stokowski's orchestration and included it
in the last bars of the Great Gate. Ansermet is careful to vary the
character and pacing of each return of the signature brass choral of
the Great Gate as well, as it can easily outwear its welcome and sound
redundant. The recording is vivid, but not as wide-ranging as other
Ansermet/London-Decca's I've enjoyed.
Two Ansermet's I was surprised that I didn't like: Tchaikovsky's Suite
No. 3, (CS 6543), and Prokofiev's Selections from Romeo and Juliet,
(CS6240 BB). In the Tchaikovsky, the let-down for me was during the 4th
mov't variations: the L'OSR strings-sensitive though they may be-just
didn't have the weight and/or fullness necessary (for me at least) in
the broad, glorious central melody. As a whole I found the whole Suite
to be a rather dark affair, lacking in sparkle. The Prokofiev is
spectacular from a recording point of view. Sample the absolutely huge
soundstage thrown by the (unfortunately sluggish) Montagues and Capulets,
or the uncanny delicacy of the light percussion and solo winds of the
Minuet. This is what vinyl's all about. What I didn't like-and it's a
make-or-break moment for me-is the heavy-handedness of the Balcony Scene.
During the hugely erotic central section, the trumpet crowds-out all
else with a horribly wide vibrato to boot.
Ansermet's Beethoven Symphony No. 7 (CS6183) This is only my second
encounter with Beethoven's Symphony 7, the other one being Klieber's on
DG, and I couldn't find any reviews at all regarding Ansermet's Beethoven
legacy. From a recording point of view, I like the Ansermet better:
Beethoven's orchestrations and ideas were much easier to take in, being
so logically and spaciously laid out between the speakers. I also never
tire of the earnest and piquant playing of the L'OSR winds. What do you
Beethoven specialists think? I don't dare give a point of view having
so little interaction with the 7th, or.
Beethoven's 3rd: Walter/CSO Columbia and Szell/Cleveland: Epic blue
label vs. Columbia Great Performances re-release, (MY37222). I don't
have much experience with the Eroica either. To acquaint myself with
it, I played, mov 't by mov't, Szell's and Walter's. I can see why
people are enthusiastic about the Szell, especially in the 1st mov't.
While Walter's is lovely enough, his kind of rattles along like an antique
car when compared to Szell 's extremely tight, urgent and rhythmically
pointed performance. When it comes to those repeated dissonant hammer-blows
in the middle of the mov't, I was truly mesmerized by Szell. The only
place at which Walter did better-to my ears-was the final mov't, especially
the coda: those horns ring out thrillingly. On the Epic blue label vs.
Columbia Great Performances, the latter claiming Dolby remixing and
remastering, I can say that the Great Performance re-release was markedly
better. Don't expect miracles, but the re-release yielded a more spacious
and airier acoustic and a more focused sound. Telling moments for
comparison include the increased clarity of the bass melody that opens
the 2nd mov't, and the embedded melody in the quickly-repeating strings
of the opening of the 3rd mov't.
Now here is a miracle, in every way: Sibelius Symphony 2 with Barbirolli
on Chesky, (CR3). I know quite a few Sibelius 2nds, including the usual
suspects, Karajan, Szell, and Davis. This one beats them all. Barbirolli
points out some gorgeous passing chords, especially in the slow mov't
that I had never noticed. His pacing and his orchestra's command of
light and shade is nigh-on perfect. On top of all this, a recording
that has the most amazing wing-span!The edges of the orchestra reach so
far beyond the outer edges of the speakers that I was drop-jawed. Sample
the big lyrical string theme that after the Vivacissimo. I must write
Kenneth Wilkinson a fan letter, as this moment has become my reference
Three quick mentions:
Not a reference for sounstaging, or much else technically, but who cares:
Janacek's Gagmewithit Mass. (Glagolitic Mass) Ancerl/Czech PO (Supraphon
50 519). A classic, the rhythms sound just right, the organ solo makes
sense, and is rhymically pointed as well as awe-inspiring, and the tenor
that closes the Credo really sounds authoritative.
Monteux's Rite of Spring with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra. (RCA
LSC 2085). A "shaded dog," recording that is not quite as timeless as
some of the other shaded's are claimed to be, but it's certainly very
good. What stood out in this Rite was point after point of textural
revelation, especially regarding the woodwinds and rhythmic layering
in Stravinsky's score. Monteux clearly adopts often slower tempi based
upon the abilities of his orchestra, but I found the performance to
be both refreshing and honest, if that makes sense. The challenges to
the orchestra, most often won, translate into an exhilarating listen.
Finally, a Hungaroton surprise: Vivaldi's Guitar Concerti with Lazlo
Szendrey Karper and the Hungarian Chamber Orchestra/Vilmos Tatrai,
Conductor. (SLPX 11970) Recorded in '79, this is clearly NOT your
grandson's Vivaldi: tempi are slow, ornamentation is sparse and sometimes
clumsy, but what a recording. The players are spread out in the room,
I kid you not.