The legendary Ansermet recording from 1960 shown above is the best sounding Beethoven 9th we have ever had the pleasure to audition here at Better Records.
Ansermet’s performance is clearly definitive to my ear as well. The gorgeous 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 any other hall we know of.
Both sides are big, rich and clear, and both were showing us pretty much everything that’s good about a vintage symphonic recording.
To get the chorus to play cleanly right to the very end is difficult for any vinyl pressing and this one is no exception. The chorus should play mostly without distortion or congestion even in the loudest parts, but we can’t say there won’t be a trace of one or both.
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.
The best pressings from the Readers Digest set with Leibowitz conducting were passable but no match for Ansermet and the wonderful hall the legendary Orchestre De La Suisse Romande recorded in, with Kenneth Wilkinson running the show no less.
In 1972 the engineering team of Gordon Parry and Kenneth Wilkinson recorded a Ninth with Solti and the CSO for Decca. We have a number of copies and hope to do a shootout with them soon. My initial impression is that they are potentially very good sounding pressings but not quite in the top tier for sound compared to this Ansermet from 1960.
The ’60 Decca/London cycle with Schmidt-Isserstedt and the Vienna Phil has sounded flat and modern to us on every pressing we have played. We no longer bother with them.
Raves for Ansermet and the Suisse Romande
With the boon of an orchestra of his own creation, Ernest Ansermet enriched DECCA’s legacy not only with groundbreaking recordings of ‘new’ repertory but also with a series of Beethoven’s Symphonies that remains competitive because of the conductor’s uncomplicated but poetic manner. This performance of the Ninth Symphony crowned the superb achievement of that series, and it is impossible to believe when listening to the DECCA [pressing] that the recording is now fifty years old.Maestro Ansermet inspired his players and singers to give a performance for the studio microphones that is redolent of the concert hall, quirks marginalized by the persuasive power of the music. Heart and genuine respect for Beethoven’s coveted score prove more inspiring than oversized musical gestures and Viennese sophistication for conductor, players, and listener.