Bizet – L’arlesienne And Carmen Suites – Ansermet

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side one mated to a nearly as good side two, this pressing has the best sounding Carmen Suite we have ever heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This is the best sounding and quietest Carmen Suite to ever make it to the site, and it was worth the wait – the sound of this vintage Blueback is absolutely breathtaking
  • If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good ’60s All Tube Analog can be, this killer copy should be just the record to do it
  • Recorded in 1961 using the amazing Decca Tree mic setup, it’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording

This is High Fidelity Audiophile Gold, with an orchestra that sounds so real it will take your breath away. The Golden Age tapes have clearly been mastered brilliantly onto this vintage London Blueback vinyl.

No doubt you have run into something like this in our classical listings:

This London is energetic, dynamic, spacious, transparent, rich and sweet. James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these 1961 sessions in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology,

We were impressed with the fact that this pressing excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, allowing the listener to inhabit the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way.

What the best sides of this wonderful classical release have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1961
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Production and Engineering

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from April of 1959 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, possibly of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound beyond all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

It’s as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is of course all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass, combined with unerring timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section of the orchestra.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage.  Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.

What We Listen For on L’arlesienne And Carmen Suites

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Prelude, Act 1
Prelude, Act 4 (Aragonaise)
Prelude, Act 3 (Intermezzo)
Prelude, Act 2 (Les Dragons D’ Alcala)
Scène Des Contrabandiers (Act 3)
Habanera (Act 1)
La Garde Montante (Act 1)
Danse Bohème (Act 2)

Side Two

Prélude
Minuetto
Adagietto
Carillon
Minuet
Farandole

Review

Review of this very performance!

In particular, the OSR seem much more individual than I remember them from my LP days, so unlike the homogenised orchestral sound that prevails today. True, they aren’t the most refined band, but what they lack in precision they more than make up for in passion and power. Their Romeo and Juliet comes to mind, as indeed does their Swan Lake, the latter first heard on a much-battered set of LPs from the early 1960s. Even more of a revelation is the quality of Decca’s engineering. Indeed, this version of Patrie! dates from 1954, the year Decca released their first commercial stereo recording.

The Carmen Suite, recorded four years later, barely shows its age, the famous overture as thrilling as ever, the all-important cymbals very well caught. Some may find the metronomic precision of Ansermet’s reading a tad disconcerting, but when it’s played with this much élan it seems churlish to complain. There’s the obligatory tape hiss to contend with as well, but the ear quickly adjusts. Tempi are well judged in the Habanera, rhythms are sharply pointed in the Prelude to Act IV, and the flute- and harp-led music of the Act III Intermezzo is beautifully turned. The trumpets take on a sharp edge in La Garde montante and the dervish-like Danse bohémienne, but the warmth and weight of the strings help to compensate for that.

Dan Morgan

Carmen

A failure at its premiere, Bizet’s Carmen began to find its enormous success only a few months later-and a few months after its composer’s death. The opera’s acclaim is mirrored by the popularity of the first orchestral suite drawn from it-like a second suite-by Ernest Guiraud, who also provided sung recitatives for the opera after Bizet’s death.

The first suite consists almost entirely of preludes and entr’actes. The opening movement is called “Prélude-Aragonaise,” and consists of two pieces widely separated in the opera. First is the prelude proper (which originally followed the actual overture, which is relegated to the suite’s finale). It’s a tense, ominous piece with tremolo strings providing the underpinning for the grim, tragic motto associated with Carmen’s premonitions of death and her murder itself. The Aragonaise, which here follows without a break, is a lively Spanish dance designed to precede the opera’s fourth act. It’s full of colorful woodwind writing over sharply accented, percussion-splashed rhythms.

The Intermezzo, originally the prelude to Act 3, is an unassuming nocturne initially for flute over harp arpeggios. The melody passes through various sections of the orchestra, generally led by a woodwind, culminating in a lush string treatment that ebbs away into fragments played by individual winds.

The “Séguedille” is the only movement of this suite that began as an aria. In this case, Carmen’s seductive song about rendez-vousing with Don Jose at a notorious tavern if he will release her from arrest uses the waltz-like Spanish seguidilla rhythm and allots the melody to several instruments in turn, mostly woodwinds but at one point the trumpet.

“Les dragons d’Alcala” originally came just before Act 2. It’s a little march, later sung by Don Jose, concerning his military platoon. In this version the lighthearted air is introduced by the bassoons, and, as usual, distributed among the woodwinds for its few repetitions. Finally comes “Les Toréadors,” the opera’s overture. This is also the festive, quick march that accompanies the procession to the bullring in the final act. In the middle is a smooth string version of the popular “Toreador Song,” heard more fully in the second suite.

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