Ravel • Sheherazade & Berlioz • Nuits D'Ete

Ernest Ansermet conducting l’Orchestra de la Suisse Romande, Regine Crespin soprano
Decca/Speakers Corner SXL6081
Single 180-gram LP



by Roy Gregory | August 21, 2012

hen you’ve mined the Decca back catalogue for as long as Speakers Corner, there’s a temptation to think that you might be nearing the end of the vein. But where Classic Records carried on issuing Living Stereo titles long past the artistic breakeven point, Kai Seemann of Speakers Corner seems to have the happy knack of continually finding the unexpected gem amongst the slag and coal. Once you’ve done all the high-profile collectibles and the orchestral potboilers, then it’s time to start looking for unexpected delights -- and with the Decca catalogue what delights they are.

The Ansermet/OSR back catalogue has been a fertile source for collectors of original pressings and Speakers Corner alike, but I was previously unaware of this 1963 recording of Ravel’s sumptuous Sheherazade song cycle. Coupled here with the Berlioz Nuits D’Ete and sung by Regine Crespin, it's hard to believe this disc doesn’t have a wider reputation (although that might just be a case of my ignorance). I’m familiar with the Baker/Barbirolli recording on EMI [ASD 2444], and it's an undeniably luminous performance. But it doesn’t compare for sheer beauty with this reissue. Crespin’s operatic training is obvious, but here it’s tempered with an earthier quality that suits these beautiful melodies perfectly (think Davrath in the Songs of the Auvergne, as opposed to Te Kanawa’s cut-glass sterility). Ansermet and the OSR provide nicely judged and weighted support, never overpowering the solo voice, but still retaining expressive dynamic range. Tonality and staging are both what I’d term "Decca standard," with excellent width and depth and a nice sense of air -- although those used to hearing original Deccas replayed via RIAA will find the warmth and weight of the orchestra refreshing to say the least. The surfaces are silent, and that places the cherry firmly on top of the sonic cake.

If you don’t know the music, or classical song cycles don’t immediately ring your bell, don’t let that put you off. The hauntingly beautiful melodies and lush tonality of this recording make it an addictive, accessible pleasure of which you shouldn’t deny yourself. Anybody who loves the Songs of the Auvergne should step right up, as this has the same easy charm and memorable tunes. Pick a hot day, open the windows, smell the air and enjoy. This is so darned nice I’d almost list it as a guilty pleasure -- except that there’s nothing to be guilty about. Repeated listening won’t even make you fat, so spin it up and let it rip. Wonderful singing, a perfectly marshaled orchestra, top-draw sonics and music to die for: this is my record of the summer, now that what passes for summer has finally arrived.

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