Ansermet’s 1961 recording still holds its own as probably the best performance on records of the exciting very Spanish music of this delightful ballet. It has also held a special place in the hearts of audiophiles since it’s original London/Decca LP release as the best engineering job on the work, and one of the finest orchestral recordings available. When the folk tale ballet was premiered in London back in 1919, with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the costumes and scenery were by Picasso and the conductor was a young man from Switzerland – Ernest Ansermet.
A stamp of authenticity is thus on this recording. The scenario concerning a miller, his wife and a lecherous Corregidor (Magistrate) insures plenty of stage action, often almost like a French farce. Falla’s score keeps things hopping with lots of clapping, Oles!, and percussion, plus the vocal parts featuring mezzo Berganza. There are brass fanfares, prominent woodwinds and rich string writing. Some of the sounds are deliberately off mike and add to the spacious sound of the recording. While I didn’t have the original Decca LP to compare, I did have the Classic Records gold CD reissue of a few years ago – an earlier premium-priced CD effort. I found very little difference between the two. However, the earlier disc looks no different than a standard CD whereas F.I.M.’s effort – with its frame around a reproduction of the original LP jacket and extensive notes from the original album reprinted on heavy glossy stock – stands out as something quite special.
– John Sunier