SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
FALLA: El sombrero de tres picos; La vida breve – Interludio y danza – L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande /Ernest Ansermet / Teresa Berganza, sop. – Esoteric
Published on May 1, 2009
FALLA: El sombrero de tres picos; La vida breve – Interludio y danza – L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande /Ernest Ansermet / Teresa Berganza, sop. – Esoteric stereo-only SACD ESSD-90016, 44:08 Performance & Sound *****:
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) was a pianist and composer; while his body of works isn’t huge, it is of great quality. Born in Cádiz, he studied there and from the late 1890s in Madrid, where he became interested through his composition teacher Felipe Pedrell in zarzuela and flamenco as well as other native Spanish music. La Vida Breve, the one-act opera from which the two excerpts included here come, dates from 1905 though had its first performance in 1913.
He spent the years 1907 to 1914 in Paris where he met Debussy, Ravel and Dukas, before returning to Spain. The Three-Cornered Hat in its form The Governor and the Miller’s Wife dates from 1917, and was followed by Master Peter’s Puppet Show and the Harpsichord Concerto. He started work on Atlàntida (Atlantis), a large scale scenic cantata, in 1927; the upheavals of the Spanish Civil War, during which his friend Lorca was murdered, prompted Falla to move to Argentina, where he died in 1946. Atlàntida still incomplete was finished and edited by Ernesto Halffter before its first performance in 1961 – the year this Decca recording was made.
The ballet El sombrero de tres picos (The Three Cornered Hat), expanded from the earlier one act The Governor and the Miller’s Wife after Diaghilev saw the original, was first performed in London in 1919 by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Ernest Ansermet taking over the baton after the first rehearsal from Falla. Choreography was by Massine and the sets by Pablo Picasso. It’s a simple tale of a magistrate trying to seduce a miller’s faithful wife, several costume changes and ending with the magistrate getting come-uppance though not how he had hoped.Forty-two years later, Ansermet recorded the ballet for Decca with his Orchestre de la Suisse Romande during a couple of days in February 1961. This is a stunningly well played performance, with great dynamic range and shading and first-class solo work from the orchestra, surely one of the best things Ansermet and his orchestra produced in their long collaboration with Decca. Teresa Berganza comes across with wonderful atmosphere in her two canto-jonde numbers, spookily disembodied. Ansermet conducts with all youthful vigour despite his 78 years, with tight ensemble and excellent balance, the dances pulsing with atmosphere. This listener gets a riveting 44 minutes of unalloyed pleasure.
The presentation is deluxe – there’s a hardback book with notes in Japanese and an excellent essay in English about Ansermet and the Falla by Andrew Huth. The transfer for SACD was done by Motoaki Ohmachi, the chief producer, and President of Esoteric, from the original tapes via DSD. Esoteric’s flagship D/A converters, model D-01VU, Rubidium master clock generator model G-0Rb and Esoteric Mexcel cables, were all used. The results are superb. My other preferred performance is that with Raphael Frubeck de Burgos and the Philharmonia Orchestra, newly reissued too, on a pair of regular CDs at bargain price on EMI 20th Century Classics 2375952, with Victoria de los Angeles. Would that that very fine recording got the Esoteric treatment, too!
Despite the more-than-premium price and the playing time of just the original LP, this issue is highly recommended on all counts. If only all reissues from tape were prepared with the devotion and care of these from Esoteric! This must surely be one of my discs of the year.
[Actually, one which was done with similar care was an audiophile reissue from exactly the same source, which we reviewed in 2006 – on a F.I.M. reissue. Would be interesting to compare the two on their sonics…Ed.]
Parte prima2. La tarde
3. Danza de la molinera (Fandango)
4. Las uvas
5. Danza de los vecinos (Seguidillas)
6. Danza del molinero (Farruca)
7. Danza del corregidor
8. Danza final
La vida breve
9. Interludio y danza
Producer: James Walker
Engineer: Roy Wallace
Location: Victoria Hall, Geneva
Recording date: 12, 17 February 1961
— Peter Joelson
[Esoteric SACDs are available to order from Esoteric dealers worldwide, and in Japanese record shops, and an enquiry through Teac’s websites, teac.com or teac.co.uk should provide the whereabouts of the nearest source. UK stockists include Jack Lawson of audiosalon.co.uk, and Nigel Crump of symmetry-systems.co.uk; UK prices are around £30.