Falla – The Three Cornered Hat Ballet; La Vida Breve: Interlude and Dance Teresa Berganza, mezzo/Suisse Romande Orchestra/Ernst Ansermet

Manuel de Falla was one of Spain’s most popular 20th century composers. This rousing 2-LP set from ORG shows why. His Sombrero de tres picos (or Three-Cornered Hat) is a spirited ballet with clear echoes of its flamenco roots, beginning with opening olés and castanets. It’s complemented by a cameo appearance—complete with birdcalls—from the great Spanish mezzo-soprano Teresa Berganza. Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet, leading his personal band, the Suisse Romande Orchestra, premiered the piece in 1919, which helps makes this 1961 recording the definitive reading. It’s obvious from every bar recorded here that Ansermet possessed a natural affinity for Spanish music. I have the original London blueback recording, long considered a sonic spectacular.

ORG reissued this classic over four LP sides, and also included two selections from Falla’s opera La Vida Breve. The advantages of the 45RPM mastering and silent surfaces are plain as day. The label’s engineers also tamed the brightness that was typical on some early London LPs. Just listen to “Miller’s Dance” with its pounding rhythms and massed strings, the saucy quote from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, or the concluding “Jota,” with its sharp brass attacks and bass drum thwacks. As good as the original recording was—and still is—ORG managed to improve a legendary recording that I did not think could be bettered. Spanish music aficionados need to put this LP set on their short list of essential purchases.  —Lawrence Devoe

London/Original Recording Group, 2 180g 45RPM LPs