While the bulk of Ansermet’s recordings were made with L’Orchestre de la Susise Romande, there were a few with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra and the very occasional foray into recordings with London orchestras. One of these was with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1959 with producer Michael Williamson and engineer Kenneth Wilkinson in tow at London’s Kingsway Hall.
Reviewing this recording, Audiophilia Online Magazine wrote: ‘This is the stuff of which dreams are made. The Royal Ballet Gala is one of the finest RCAs recorded in London’s Kingsway Hall. The chunks of great ballet music are well served by orchestra, conductor and engineer. Performances are executed to a very high standard – the Royal Opera House Orchestra, both then and now, rank as one of the finest of opera orchestras.
Conductor Ansermet keeps the pace moving, giving the listener the impression of a dance event rather than a dramatic concert hall reading. With the exception of some of the Tchaikovsky scenes, the music is light and remains so under Ansermet’s gentle touch. Each ballet is given full attention by the players, something not always attained at Covent Garden during long ballet nights! The threat of eternity does have its merits.
The recorded sound is simply amazing! Lustrous is one word that comes to mind, accurate is another. Tonally, Messrs. Williamson and Wilkinson have used their considerable talents to capture the orchestra superbly. Woodwind and strings glow and resonate, transporting this listener to a time when simpler recording was better. Brass ring out thrillingly and percussion effects are very musical. Be it a bang, swish, rattle, crack or snap, each percussionist is situated perfectly within the beautiful Kingsway soundstage. Even the difficult-to-record sound of the celeste is captured in its purely mechanical form. Its delicate sound is heard to great effect during the ‘Nutcracker’ – originating stage left, the sound decays across the stage of Kingsway with sparkling beauty. Wonderful.’
ROYAL BALLET GALA
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker
GIOACHINO ROSSINI/RESPIGHI: La Boutique Fantasque
LEO DELIBES: Coppélia
ADOLPHE ADAM: Giselle
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake
ROBERT SCHUMANN: Carnaval (orch. Glazunov, Rimsky-Korsakov)
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY: The Sleeping Beauty
FREDERIC CHOPIN: Les Sylphides (orch. Roy Douglas)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Recording producer: Michael Williamson
Recording engineer: Kenneth Wilkinson
Recording location: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, January 1959