Bizet / L’arlesienne And Carmen Suites – Ansermet

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

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

  • This superb recording makes it back to the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side side and outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • This is a spectacular recording — it’s guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl pressing of orchestral music you own
  • Vibrant orchestrations, top quality sound and scratch-free surfaces combine for an astounding listening experience
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s all the proof anyone with two working ears and top quality audiophile equipment needs to make the case
  • If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good ’50s All Tube Analog can be, this killer copy should be just the record to do it
  • Recorded in 1958 using the amazing Decca Tree mic setup, it’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording

This vintage London pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the Best Sides of L’Arlesienne and Carmen Suites 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 1958
  • 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 1958 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

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. There is a richness to the sound that exceeds 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 and the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them up for sale. None of them, I repeat not a single one of them, can ever begin to sound the way this record sounds.

Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.

Famous in its Day

The Carmen Ballet Suite was deservedly famous in audiophile circles back in the ’70s. Even with the dubious equipment that a high-end stereo store might be running, this record would still sound shockingly good. It has so much “life” to it, so many interesting colors, and above all such three-dimensional spaciousness, it can make even bad transistor equipment, which is pretty much all there was back then, sound good. (The store I frequented carried the classic tube Audio Research electronics — that’s where I bought mine — but most stores were all-transistor, and high-power transistors at that, not a sound I care to revisit. Would love to hear my SP3-A-1 again though!)

What We’re Listening 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.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.


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



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


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.