I heard music as a child attending live performances in magnificent concert halls. That was live music; music as the conductor hears it during performance; music produced with extraordinary balance and subtlety in a perfect acoustic structure, with the force and presence of an enthusiastic, generally learned audience urging the conductor, orchestra and composer on to greater and greater heights and depths of expression, immediacy and comprehension. Good music succeeded in those terms; mediocre music failed to produce those experiences; and great music transcended the human and carried a full theater of human souls into the mythic and heroic dimensions from which the great composers drew the scores out of the unknown. Sound and physical, spiritual experience of transcendence were a single thing. When it was great, you did not "listen to it." You coauthored it in your heart, mind and physical body.
So then "recorded" music, which to composer, musician and conductor alike, is an entirely different mental, spiritual and physical experience. The best recorded music was and is analog sound -- "full frequency range recording" as Decca called it. I first encountered recorded music in the era when LP replaced 78s. Records were magical toys, requiring vast sustained exercise of imagination to breathe concert life into them. LP graduated into Stereo analog records, of which Decca's were by far the best. Much less effort of imagination or memory was required to bring them to life while you were "in" them, just as Cinerama and Cinemascope physically pulled you out of a theater directly into a story . . . usually with multi-track analog state of the art surround speakers producing a sphere of sound in which you were the center.
It is in this context of experiencing music and performance in recorded form that Ansermet and others must be considered. For when all is said, you are not actually experiencing a performance by conductor and orchestra; you are experiencing recording engineering, studio acoustics, and "performance" without audience. In music or theater, we would call that a rehearsal -- not a performance. Live music by the "great composers" was imagined, rehearsed in "concert" among great instrumentalists, and then performed as a live event of which there would be no record but the recollections and reviews of those who attended and entered into the experience of the event. For the composer, there is no prescience of recorded " sound," analog or digital. To the composer, and hence to conductor and orchestra, music is infinitely more than sound; and it is certainly not something to be listened "to." It is a ritual event directly experienced and coauthored by composer, audience, conductor and orchestra -- in that order. When the experience begins, you enter into mythic direct experience within dimensions of your own consciousness, as or more vividly as in a dream. When the experience ends, your consciousness reluctantly returns from Pythagorean scope to personal schedule.
Certainly heroes stand at the major crossroads from composer to live performance experience. Many books can be written on this ritual process. Other kinds of heroes stand at the crossroads from participatory experience to recorded or recollected "sound." But "sound" as such is perhaps no more than half of the actual live performance; the other half is joint participation by composer, conductor, orchestra and audience. "Sound" recorded and recollected is essentially only a partial footprint of some mythic animal that has moved beyond itself as it was when it made the footprint. It is on this basis that magnificent conductors, who understood the ancient religious, spiritual and transcendental roots of "live performance" as Great Events, openly deplored studio recording of any sort, and were fascinated but disappointed by hearing a recording of what to them had been live performance. "You had to be there to know what it felt like, how we were moved so profoundly."
Decca, released as London Stereo LP Records (ffrr), took up the challenge to "involve" a mere listener into at least a balcony experience of real performance ritual: to recreate rather than repeat a music event. Into that challenge stepped Ansermet, a mathematician and scientific mind fused with great musical conducting skill, and what is more, great organizational and cooperation skill. When London released the classics of the orchestral repertoire into "participatory" recording, Ansermet was by far the first and greatest conductor to make the bridge. He and his orchestra were one; collectively they were one with both the score and the composer's ritual performance intention. Great recording genius applied by someone like London's Terry McEwen took on the active, participatory, ritual performance challenge supplied by an audience (though of course nothing can begin to substitute for that).
On LP monaural, then Stereo LP, crossover geniuses between concert experience and recording technology stepped up to an impossible challenge. Stokowski, Ansermet, Reiner, Serafin, even Toscanini made continual 4th to 3rd dimensional transitions from podium to recording booth. They knew they were dealing with a phenomenon completely different from ritual performance event, "mob experience," tangible physicality, indescribable nuances of performance not able to be captured by "sound" recording. Think regular movies, then think experience with 3D movies -- as undistinguished as the actual films were. There is a dimensional shift actively occurring. In the case of great classical music interpreted (coauthored) by great conductors + great audiences, performed by great instrumentalists, a ritual and transcendental theater dimension is being "stepped down a dimension" into its purely "sound" component.
Ansermet, heard performing this dimensional shift from performance to recording, was the very best in the world to bring together all the elements necessary for this descent from hyperspace to normal hearing. So careful was his work, so masterly the use of technology, that an heroic hybrid was formed on London Stereo Records that eased the transition from live performance experience to essentially passive sensory solitary personal listening. If any of the composers reappeared in the best sound studio in the world, and "heard" even the most sensitive, committed, intelligent, spiritual, stirring "sound" of their music NOT being played, they would be horrified -- not by what they hear, which is a footprint of part of a reality, but by what they do not EXPERIENCE.
Once the bridge from live performance ritual to recorded sound took over the ears (but not the hearts) of radio, telephone, television "sound," generations have grown to middle age knowing nothing but "sound" . . . knowing nothing of the real thing, the crowd dynamic, the performance expectation, the co-authorship of audience and musicians -- the dynamic spiritual experience which alone makes music the most sublime of the arts. From that transition, it has been a 90-degree turn from performance to sound, such that physical performance now usually is electronic in the first place. Sound can be synthesized; algorithms can be fine tuned to "drop out" the unnecessary "non sound" parts of the sonic spectrum of even an analog recording; sound can be compressed (i.e. vast amounts of the actual sonic spectrum dropped out entirely) without objection, even without noticing. What substitutes is "clarity" of "sound." This is so far removed from inspired composition of an instrumental or vocal masterwork by a composer, intended for the equivalent of Attic Theater Ritual Participatory and Reciprocal Performance as a semi-divine live action event, as it is possible to get. It is like calling Shakespeare a "word-smith."
This said, the Ansermet records -- and I do mean the vinyl stereophonic disks played on the best sound system contemporaneous with their release (like McIntosh) -- are the most scrupulous attempts to bridge performance and sound as we know it, regardless of what you think of the performances. They were never, ever bad. They were often outstanding by any musical standard. And the aural experience of listening to his records bridged us from live experience to personal possession. The conversion of those records into 21st Century digital sound is a question for another time, so bloodless and non-human is the result which now we crave. It is that digital technology, applied to the best analog technology, applied to real music experience that you are getting in this set of recordings.
Do I like them? I really like and admire them, in their own way. Are they the "sound experience" of pioneer FFRR analog recording? No. Can they compare favorably with the pressed vinyl disks? No. Can any recording even remotely begin to capture even a portion of a live music performance when "fire from heaven strikes"? Absolutely not. Did composers want their works treated as scores for production of sounds? Absolutely not. Did composers expect conductors, instrumentalists and great audiences to produce staggering ritual events? Absolutely yes. Is being true to the score being true to music? No. Does the composer want his or her music performed in slavish conformity with the scribbles and scrawls of language translation from music to print? No. of course not. Just look at the disrespect composers showed for their own scores, the changes they freely made or incorporated as a consequence of some great and unique performance. If Rachmaninoff, one of the greatest pianists in history, can seriously say that Horowitz plays his music better than he can, are we not forgetting what composers ARE?
A final note. Look at the quality, intelligence, experience and erudition of the people who have reviewed this set of recordings? Have you ever seen such quality in any group of reviewers on Amazon? This set brings people who would not otherwise bother to write a word on Amazon, to express very important and insightful thoughts and feelings. Regardless of what you think of the reviews themselves, or this one, consider how important the recordings must be if we put such time and effort into publishing a review on Amazon -- like a speck of dust; but worth doing nonetheless.