This is one of the best bargains I've bought for a long, long time - ca. £38 for 32 CDs with some of the best recordings of French music that you'll find on disc.
Back in the days of vinyl Ansermet's recordings were my introduction to a great deal of French (and Russian) repertoire - aided by Decca's outstanding production, Ansermet had an unerring knack of being able to make his recorded performances sound spontaneous and perfectly paced. The very French sound of the Suisse Romande Orchestra might jolt some listeners who are accustomed to the svelte performances of many of these works by US and other European orchestras, but for me they perfectly match Ansermet's humane and subtle readings - try the samples online of Ravel's La Valse or Le tombeau de Couperin.
I should also mention the mono recording of Pelleas et Melisande from the early 1950's with Suzanne Danco as Melisande - I had never gone to the trouble of listening to this before, believing that the sound would be too "boxy", but am bowled over by the clarity and quality of both the voices and the orchestra. This is far more than a mere historical document.
Looking forward to the next Ansermet box which will collect together his recordings of Russian music!
This set is a very extensive survey of 20th century French music and if nothing else will introduce purchasers (myself included) to several previously unknown pieces. There are the well known works from Ravel (Bolero, Rapsodie Espagnole, Daphnis etc) and Debussy (La Mer, Nocturnes, Jeux etc) but also pieces from Lalo, Ambroise Thomas, Roussel and Alberic Magnard which are not so common these days. It's all good stuff however! In the early days of stereo these recordings were the only ones available for much of this repertoire. Reviews in the Stereo record guide of 1960 of some of them were generally very good in terms of performance and sound. The sound stands up pretty well today actually but there are limitations at the frequency extremes of bass and treble. Where these performances score highly is in character, with a flavour of French authenticity. Sometimes the orchestral playing is not perfect but Ansermet seems to bring out all the colour in the scores. The Dutoit, Montreal versions of many of these works are better recorded and played but I find Ansermet the more engaging interpreter. The pungent sound of some of the woodwind playing is not heard in modern orchestras (for better or worse) but here it does not sound out of place. This set is excellent value for money and may be the last chance to get some of these Ansermet recordings on CD. Universal in Italy should be congratulated for such a splendid gift to French music lovers!
This set is an excellent introduction to 19th/20th century French Composers as well as the art of Ansermet as a conductor including the L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Collectors will probably take pleasure in filling up holes in the Ansermet sections of their shelves as his recordings have been somewhat hard to access lately (although the Australian Eloquence label has put forward a fair number of Ansermet's recordings over the last decades) . My own interest in Ansermet (seemingly a mythical figure in terms of a conductor) and a wish to spend more time in the French soundscape made it relatively easy to invest in this set. Besides the humble cost of about 1.5 GBP per disc is a small fee for entering this realm of music. The recordings are mostly from the mid 1950s to early 1960s. The sound is quite good and I have no complaints so far. I thought it was odd that the set included two versions of Debussy's opera 'Pelleas et Mellisande', but I suspect Decca must have had a good reason. Most of the 32 discs are dominated by composers such as Debussy, Ravel, Bizet, Berlioz, and Saint-Saens (about 20 of the 32 discs). However, the remaining 12 discs contain an array of works by Lalo, Chabrier, Faure, Chausson, Roussel, Honneger, Magnard, Martin, Arnold, Offenbach, Dukas and Delibes. This set from Decca-Italy is definitely a wonderful opportunity to explore pieces that one normally would not acquire. I am relatively new to French music (beyond Debussy and Ravel) so this is a gold mine for me in terms of exposure to unusual pieces as well as new composers. For example - I very much enjoyed Debussy's "Le martyre de Saint Sebastian" - a work I had never encountered before, but now listened to with great interest. It is likely that one will acquire additional recordings of music one really enjoys, but a set like this one allows for an affordable first encounter. Besides, I have always wanted to listen more to Ansermet's renditions of Ravel and Debussy. I took some time to list the content below as I had a difficult time finding disc specific information on the internet. I hope that allows you to get a feel for the specific content in this box. My experience is that sets like this one either goes up in price very quickly or (even worse) goes out of print. It seems to be a temporary issue from Decca Italy (just like the current Richter box Solo Recordings) so grab it while you can. Highly recommended!
BOX DETAILS: The box is a large clamshell made of sturdy cardboard. Each cd is inserted into a cardboard sleeve (all identical on the front cover apart from indicating the number of the cd). The back of each sleeve contains cd#, composer, names of the pieces as well as artists (no separate track indicators nor time stamps). The surface of each cd shows cd# as well as the names of the composers for each disc (nothing else in terms of information]. No texts or libretti are included. The pamphlet (36pgs) includes the content on each cd with tracks, timing, artists, ensembles and recording dates as well as a 5 pg essay about Ansermet written by Massimo Rolando Zegna in English and Italian.
CONTENTS: (The orchestra in all the recordings is L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande unless stated otherwise - only cd 13 has a different orchestra)
CD 1 DEBUSSY Printemps  Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune (1957) [Pepin - flute] Nocturnes  [Choeurs de la Suisse Romande] La Mer  Rhapsodie pour clarinette et orchestra  (Gugholz - clarinet]
CD 2 DEBUSSY Images pour orchestra  Jeux  Danse 
CD 3 DEBUSSY Le Martyre de Saint Sebastian  (Danco/ Waugh/ Montmollin/ Union Chorale de La Tour-de-Peilz) Six Epigraphes Antiques  Marche Ecossaise 
CD 4 DEBUSSY La Boite a joujoux (1957) Petite Suite (1961) RAVEL Pavane pour une infant defunte (1961) Valses nobles et sentimentales (1960) Alborada del gracioso (1960)
CD 5-6 DEBUSSY Pelleas et Melisande (1952) (Danco /Mollet /Rehfuss /Vessieres /Bouvier /Wend /Olsen)
CD 7-8 DEBUSSY Pelleas et Melisande (1964)) (Spoorenberg/ Maurane/ London /Hoekman /Veasey /Bredy /Shirley-Quirk /Kubrack)
CD 9 RAVEL Rapsodie espagnole (1957) La Valse (1963) Tzigane, rapsodie de concert (1959) [Ricci] Bolero (1963) DEBUSSY Clair de lune
CD 10 RAVEL Daphnis et Chloe (1965) (Choeurs de la Radio Romande Lausanne/ Charlet) Ma mere l'oye, suite (1957)
CD 11 RAVEL Piano concerto in D Major for the left hand (1953) (Blancard - piano) Piano concerto in G major (1953) (Blancard - piano) Daphnis et Chloe (1960) - suite no 2 SAINT-SAENS Danse macabre (1952)
CD 12 RAVEL L'enfant et les sortileges (1954) (Wend/ Montmollin/ Touraine/ Migliette/ Danco/ Bise/ Bobillier/ Cuenod/ Mollet/ Lovano) Sheherazade (1955) (Pepin -flute) Deux melodies hebraiques (1955) Trois poems de Stephane Mallarme (1955) (Danco - soprano)
CD14 BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique (1967) Le Corsaire (1967) Le Carnaval romain (1964) Beatrice et Benedict - ouverture (1967)
CD 15 SAINT-SAENS Symphony No 3 (1962) (Segon - organ) BERLIOZ Le damnation de Faust (1964) Benvenuto Cellini - Ouverture (1964) SAINT-SAENS Le Rouet d'Omphale (1962)
CD 16 BERLIOZ Les nuits d'ete (1963) (Crespin - soprano) Symphony fantastique (rehearsal - 1967)
CD 17 FRANCK Symphony in D minor (1961) Le chasseur maudit (1961) Les Eolides (1967)
CD 18 BIZET Carmen - suite (1958) L'Arlesienne (1958) Patrie - ouverture (1954)
CD 19 BIZET Symphony in C major (1960) Jeux d'enfants (1960) La jolle fille de Perth -suite (1960) OFFENBACH Orphee aux enfers - ouverture (1960) La belle Helene - ouverture (1960) HEROLD Zampa - ouverture (1960)
CD 20 DELIBES Coppelia - ballet (1957)
CD 21 DELIBES Coppelia - continued Sylvia - suite (1959)
CD 22 LALO Namouna (1966) [Cuvit - trumpet/ Pepin - flute] Divertissement (1966) Rapsodie norvegienne (1966) Scherzo pour orchestra (1966) Le Roi d'Ys (1960)
CD 23 LALO Symphonie espagnole (1959) [Ricci - violin] CHABRIER Habanera (1955) FAURE Requiem (1955) (Danco/Souzay/Schmidt (organ)/ L'Union Chorale de la Tour de Peilz/ Mermoud)
CD 24 CHABRIER Espana (1964) Suite pastorale (1964) Joyeuse marche (1964) Danse slave (1964) Fete polonaise (1964) THOMAS Mignon - ouverture (1960) Raymond - ouverture (1960) AUBER Le domino noir - ouverture (1960) Fra Diavolo - ouverture (1960)
CD 25 CHAUSSON Symphony in B flat (1967) FAURE Pelleas et Melisande - suite (1962) Penelope - prelude (1962) Masques et bergmasques - suite (1962)
CD 26 ROUSSEL Symphony No 3 in G minor (1956) Symphony No 4 in A major (1956) Le festin de l'araignee (1954)
CD 27 HONEGGER Une cantata de Noel (1961) (Mollet/ Choeur des Jeunes Lausanne/ Choeur de Radio Lausanne/ Le Petit Choeur du College de Villamont) Symphony No 2 (1961) ROUSSEL Petite suite pour orchestra (1954)
CD 28 HONEGGER Symphony No 3 ("Symphonie liturgique") (1968) Symphony No 4 ("Deliciae Basilienses") (1968)
CD 29 HONEGGER Pacific 231 (1963) DUKAS L'apprenti sorcier (1958) La Peri (1963) MAGNARD Symphony No 3 in B flat minor (1968)
CD 30 HONEGGER Le Roi David (1956) (Danco/ Montmollin/ Martin/ Hamer/ Audel/ Choeur des Jeunes de l'Eglise National Vaudoise)
CD 31 MARTIN Concerto for 7 wind instruments, timpani, percussion and string orchestra (1961) Etudes for string orchestra (1961) Petite symphonie concertante (1951) (Jamet - harp/ Vaucher-Clerc - harpsichord/ Rosslaud - piano)
CD 32 MARTIN Concerto for violin and orchestra (1955) (Schneiderhan - violin) In terra pax (1963) (Buckel/ Hoffgen/ Haefliger/ Mollet/ Stampfli/ Union Chorale & Choeur des Dames de Lausanne/ Mermoud)
Ernest Ansermet is without any doubt the best interpreter of " la musique française" and much more. This box set is a dream come true, having all his recording of the French composers in a box set. Everything on the CDs are as good as expected, the sound quality is amazing. With the Bernstein Symphony Edition and the Bruno Walter The Edition this on top of my favorite box set.
The "Colour and Love" that Ansermet brings to this music is one of palpable joyousness , unfortunately around 50% of the discs would not load- ( TOC problems) and required backup copying to gain a listen - so with that caveat the set is still most enjoyable !
Excellent music, excellent performances and very good clean stereo recordings considering the time they were made. Best selection of French music you could get - especially Ravel's pieces - no one does it better!