Ansermet / Crespin / L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande – Ravel: “Shéhérazade” / Berlioz: “Les Nuits d’Eté” (Speakers Corner / Decca, 180g pressing)


# Composers: Maurice Ravel, Hector Berlioz
# Orchestra: L’Orchestre De La Suisse Romande
# Performer: Regine Crespin
# Conductor: Ernest Ansermet
# Vinyl (1964 / 2012)
# Number of Discs: 1
# Format: Flac
# DR Analysis: DR 12
# Label: Decca/Speakers Corner
# Size: 939MB (24/96) + 244MB (16/44.1)
# Recovery: 5%
# Scan: yes
# Server: RS, FF

Phenomenal sound quality on this album. Be sure to read the review below for a detailed explanation on reading the deadwax numbers on Decca recordings.

From the Speakers Corner website:

At the time when Ravel set down “Shéhérazade”, and although he had already composed such works as “Pavane pour une Infante defunte” and “Jeux d’eau”, – regarded today as excellent – the young composer was still struggling for recognition. Five times he tried to win the prestigious “Prix de Rome”, France’s highest musical award, but barely achieved more than limited acclaim.

Ravel’s provocative assertion that he didn’t follow any particular musical direction, but was an anarchist is reflected in his free, wonderfully interwoven composition “Shéhérazade”. A touch of the Orient is entwined with late-romantic harmony and an impressionistic, modern brilliance, whose depth calls for and merits repeated listening.

Ravel shares the lot of a misunderstood genius with Hector Berlioz. Written in 1832, his cycle “Les Nuits d’Eté”, with its pulsating and arietta-like but also morbid and ghostly songs, provide a wonderful example of a composition from the French Romantic era. The present superb performance was highly acclaimed by producer and author G. A. Eckle, who stated “Régine Crespin is the embodiment of quality when it comes to French repertoire in her category”.


This has been a classic since its release in early 1964 and in the opening song of Shéhérazade it is easy to see why. Crespin’s tone is wonderfully languorous, she points the words beautifully, expands operatically in climaxes, the Suisse Romande Orchestra under Ansermet match her in terms of expressiveness at every turn. There is a sense of communication and rightness that makes these performances almost peerless.

The sound quality raises a number of questions. This Speakers Corner LP has been compared with what is called a wideband, grooved, Original Recording, Decca, derived from the first lacquers, mothers and stampers, which must be one of the first discs produced. For non-vinyl collectors this is gobbledegook, and many do not know how an LP is produced, or how to identify the lacquer numbers on a Decca disc. So, given the importance of this Speakers Corner LP, it seems the ideal place to give a brief explanation of what this means.

From 1958 to 1968, first-label Decca LPs featured (with a few exceptions from about SXL 6300 and SET 340 onwards) a 13mm-wide silver band above the spindle hole with the words Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound in large black capital letters on it. Around the label (15mm in from the edge) there was a clearly visible groove, and between 9.30 and 11.30 on the label edge there were the words “Original Recording By” in small upper-case silver letters. The second label for each disc is exactly the same as the first, with “Made In England By” replacing the afore-mentioned.

To make things easier a series of acronyms are used: WBG (wideband grooved), ED1 and ED2 (first or second label for SXLs), and EP1 and EP2 the same for SETs. On the run-off at the end of the LP side there are a series of letters and numbers. At 12 or 6 o’clock there is the matrix number, which for virtually all Decca stereo discs starts with ZAL, followed by a four-figure number that designates the master-tape, and a number followed by a single letter, which denotes the lacquer and Mastering Engineer. At about 9 o’clock there will be a number that designates the mother used and at 3 o’clock there will be one or two letters derived from the word BUCKINGHAM, where B is one and BA would be 19; this is the stamper number.

But what are lacquers, mothers, and stampers? In brief, the lacquer is cut from a master-tape, plated to form a master and then multiple metal mothers and stampers (which imprint the groove pattern) are derived from it.

It has often been pointed out (much to the consternation and disbelief of many first-label addicts) that the “Made in England” label sounds much the same as the first, and it is not difficult to see why. Once the master was discarded, the whole process started again, so the first mother and first stamper derived from a later lacquer should – all things being equal – sound exactly the same as those from the first, and so on down the chain.

In terms of SC SXL 6081, when compared with the original (with the first lacquer, mother and stamper numbers) it is clearly superior. When assessing the Maag/Mendelssohn and Ansermet/Sleeping Beauty discs from Speakers Corner, I thought that both were better than the originals, but listening to them again, it is clear that the Sleeping Beauty is superior to the Mendelssohn, because it has far greater midrange clarity and retains that indefinable quality that defines Decca SXL and SET LPs produced between 1958 and 1968, and one of the reasons for this is the letter K.

As mentioned above, the Decca matrix number ends in a number and letter, where the letter is the name of the Mastering Engineer, and K is Tony Hawkins, who has joined Speakers Corner to oversee production of its Decca LPs. People always think of renowned Decca engineers and producers, such as Kenneth Wilkinson and John Culshaw, but their team of ten Mastering Engineers played an equally important part in creating what remains the finest recorded sound ever produced, and to audiophiles Hawkins is a legend.

He is working with Ray Staff of Air Studios. The Sleeping Beauty and the Crespin disc was cut using a modified Studer A80 tape-deck (where an ex-Decca engineer has installed tape-head replay amplifiers, based on an original Decca design, with the addition of some modern components, which provides an extremely low noise tape replay system with a very clean sound). I am told that the mixing desk Air use utilizes the smallest number of devices required to produce the best possible sound. The disc mastering system uses a standard Neumann VMS 80 lathe with an SX74 cutting head and Neumann SAL74 cutting amplifiers with a custom-made power supply, which gives a more controlled bass response. It is worth bearing-in-mind that all of these machines post-date SXL 6081 (with stereo Neumann cutting equipment the number refers to the date it was first produced) and are solid-state, as opposed to valve/tube, as found on the originals. But in what way does this affect the sound?

The original has excellent definition, silky string tone, Crespin’s voice has real presence and attack, and there is that previously mentioned indefinable something that characterizes Decca sound that no other 180 gram remastering has captured. On the new disc all of these qualities are amplified. The woodwind are alarmingly realistic, the strings have more body, the image is more stable, Crespin’s voice now has startling, thrilling presence, fullness of tone and vibrancy, and, crucially, the bass is more extended and better-controlled, which means that the sound-stage has greater weight and power, without any loss of definition. The overall balance is slightly more forward, but the change is nowhere near as pronounced as on the solid-state remasterings done during the 1970s by Decca themselves, and these new discs do sound valve generated.

It would be difficult to over-state the importance of this new Speakers Corner disc. When taken in conjunction with the Ansermet Sleeping Beauty, it confirms that Tony Hawkins and Air Studios are able to produce discs that surpass the Decca originals, which – with stereo LPs – has never happened before. For avid first-label collectors this will be of passing interest, but for those who are more concerned about sound, and trust their own ears (as opposed to what those with vested interests – such as dealers – tell them) they really have to be heard: they are that good.

Here is a great French artist singing the songs of her native country in her native language, with the natural inflection and empathy of one to the manner born. Her voice is beautiful, pure throughout a huge range, focused, intense, infinitely nuanced; she can make it float ethereally or glow with a shimmering radiance, brighten and darken it and carry on two-way conversations. Identifying complete with each song, she communicates its mood, atmosphere, character, expression. She captures the pensive dreaminess, plaintive yearning, outpouring of grief and lamentation, as well as the gaiety and lighthearted teasing of Berlioz’ many-faceted Les Nuits d’Été. In Ravel’s Shéhérazade, her voice becomes part of the exotic, languidly oriental atmosphere created by the lush, sensuous, glittering orchestration, surging up with the sweeping buildups to thrilling climactic high Gs and B-flats, matching the tremulous flute solo in the second song. The orchestra plays wonderfully, exploiting Ravel’s infinitely imaginative, vivid coloration to the utmost. – Edith Eisler,

Track List:

01. Shéhérazade – 1. Asie
02. Shéhérazade – 2. La flûte enchantée
03. Shéhérazade – 3. L’indifférent
04. Les nuits d’été, Op.7 – 1. Villanelle
05. Les nuits d’été, Op.7 – 2. Le spectre de la rose
06. Les nuits d’été, Op.7 – 3. Absence
07. Les nuits d’été, Op.7 – 4. Sur les lagunes
08. Les nuits d’été, Op.7 – 5. Au cimetière (claire de lune)
09. Les nuits d’été, Op.7 – 6. L’île inconnue

Recording: September 1963 at Victoria Hall, Geneva (Switzerland), by James Lock
Production: Michael Bremner

Ripping Info:

All vinyl is cleaned on a VPI 16.5

Technics SL1200-MK5 (modified)
– Rega RB300 arm with RB700 wiring
– Michell Tecnoweight
– SoundSupports armboard
– Trans-Fi Audio Reso-Mat
Shure V15VxMR (with Jico stylus)
SimAudio Moon 110LP preamp
Native Instruments Audio4DJ USB interface

Processing: Sound Forge 10, ClickRepair (manual mode only)


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17 thoughts on “Ansermet / Crespin / L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande – Ravel: “Shéhérazade” / Berlioz: “Les Nuits d’Eté” (Speakers Corner / Decca, 180g pressing)

  1. Dear Owl,

    3 words suffice to describe this rendition of (IMO) one of the most beautiful song cycles ever writte: OH MY GOD…

    I have this album on CD (personally I believe it is the ultimate rendition of ‘Nuits d’été’; Crespin is simply otherwordly).

    Nevertheless, I think the main difference is in the quality of the sound: Hearing this recording in the present version makes me feel as if I had never really heard it before… And this ‘discovery’ is (it goes without saying) a most delightful surprise 😀

    Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart!

    Mario 🙂

  2. Many thanks for this, it’s no fluke the classic status these performances of Ravel and Berlioz hold. Not just Crespin’s performance but also the superb support from Anserment.

    Should be be all collections of fine music.

  3. Hi guys
    i think we hear all of the 24/96 rips of Rach and thenightowl. But do we not hear only the cartridge of denon dl 103R MC of Rach, and the shure MM of thenightowl?
    Yes indeed we do. I have two Turntables
    1. Clearaudio Champion level II with Tangent Arm and Maestro V2 MM
    2. Transrotor Zet1 with SME and Ortofon M2 Black MM and Transrotor 800-S with Denon dl103 MC
    I have the Original Recording in NM and when i play the record on these three Cartridges it is already different.
    Think about that.
    Thanks a lot and sorry for my bad English

  4. NightOwl – Thank sso much for this and all your rips. I wish I had the ears and sound system to hear what others report, but I am very glad to just have the performances. Looking forward to this one especially.

  5. Steve, thanks for the heads up. I had downloaded this a year ago; but the storage hard drive died and I had no listing of what was on it: ( a 3 TB drive).
    I look forward to hearing again this one too.

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