Ernest Ansermet was not only the most important conductor from Decca's early years but also one of the leading interpreters of French repertoire. Therefore it was only a matter of time to present a suitable item in the Legends series to prove both points.
After suitably opening with Debussy's masterpiece, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, we find the breathtaking performances of La Mer, Jeux and Khamma respectively. The last-named is presented here for the very first time on CD! It was the strength of Ansermet and his Swiss Orchestra to bring out the poetic content of musical works, and that is exactly how Debussy's music needs to be handled.
Extract from the sleeve notes by Gilles Delatronchette
No one who ever had the privilege to hear him in concert ever felt that Ansermet was a cold conductor. When conducting, he always managed to balance the requirements of melody, harmony and rhythm to create a single musical entity. Rather than the letter, what he expressed was the spirit of a piece, its poetic, intangible content. As he often used to remark, all a conductor has to do is to set the right tempo to allow the notes, motifs and rhythms to take their place and precise value automatically. This was what he called the interior impulse. His stance, anything but dry, was in fact a halfway point between an "empirical" and a "scientific" approach to the score. The whole spirit of French music consists in a union of these two tendencies, and Ansermet remains one of the key interpreters of French repertoire.
He was born in Vevey in Switzerland in November 1883. His parents encouraged his passion for music, which he soon went on to study. He studied mathematics and physics first in Lausanne, then at the Sorbonne in Paris, but nevertheless continued his musical training, and when he returned to Switzerland he won the open competition to take over the post of conductor of the Kursaal Orchestra in Montreux. It was then that he met Ramuz and Stravinsky, and the latter then introduced him to Diaghilev, with whom he formed a close friendship. In 1915 he was invited to conduct the Ballets russes, and the success he achieved on a tour of America with the company was a turning point in his career, leading to invitations to conduct the major international orchestras. But it was with the Ballets russes, principally, that he was to conduct a remarkable series of first performances of works by Stravinsky, Falla, Prokofiev and Satie. In 1918 he brought together the Orchestre Roman, a group of sixty players who formed the basis for the ensemble he was to direct for the greatest part of his career. This was the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva, and in the course of his fifty-year reign it became one of the leading interpreters of the Russian and French repertories. His name continues to be closely linked to those of Debussy, Ravel, Honegger, Frank Martin and Stravinsky. Ansermet died in Geneva in 1969 at the age of eighty-six
Recording locations: Victoria Hall, Geneva, October 1957 (Prélude, La Mer), May 1958 (Jeux), December 1964 (Khamma)
Producers: James Walker, John Mordler (Khamma)
Recording Engineers: Roy Wallace, James Lock (Khamma)