In the latest instalment of the Decca Ansermet Legacy, Decca Eloquence introduces the Swiss conductor’s recordings of Beethoven – his symphony cycle, overtures and the rare Weingartner arrangement of the Grosse Fuge. They are issued as three 2CD sets.
François Hudry, the supreme commentator on the art of Ernest Ansermet writes, “the new vision he brought to the Beethoven symphonies was astonishing. Perhaps he was too early in what he did, in his respect for the text and in his weeding out of all the Romantic touches and subjectivity which held sway at the time. Without recourse to so-called ‘authentic’ instruments, Ansermet was trying to return to the composer’s intentions, as given in the score, avoiding the imposition of any responses of his own on the audience.”
In Beethoven, Ansermet heard not just a titan but a romantic, sensual man, not just a thunderer but a composer of sensitivity and subtlety. Even the mighty ‘Eroica’ was allowed to a reveal a softer, perhaps even a more feminine aspect. Whether he was conducting Beethoven or Ravel, Ansermet had a fine ear for instrumental colour and a talent for keeping rhythms well-sprung and flexible. At times, Ansermet’s Beethoven even seems to anticipate the ‘authentic’ Beethoven performances that became popular in the 1990s although Ansermet got his results without having to rely on the sometimes unpredictable behaviour of period instruments.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 ‘Eroica’
Symphony No.2 in D major, Op. 36
Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60
Coriolan Overture, Op. 62
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
‘[Ansermet] interprets Beethoven 4 with grandeur and authority and perfect spontaneity… Ansermet’s reading of Coriolan is fine… The attack and chording, and the shaping of the overture otherwise, are all impressive, and the vividness of the drums is particularly striking’ Gramophone