Falla: El Sombrero de tre picos (CD review)

Also, Chabrier: Espana. Teresa Berganza, mezzo-soprano; Ernest Ansermet, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. HDTT.

I wrote about this recording of Manuel de Falla's ballet El Sombrero de tre picos ("The Three Cornered Hat") some while ago when FIM remastered it. Now, HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) have remastered it as well, and they provide it on a physical disc or a digital download in a variety of formats and price points. No matter which company or which format you choose, the remasterings provide clear improvements in sound over the original Decca product.

El Sombrero de tre picos is a lighthearted tale of attempted seduction, which the composer wrote in 1919 for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The music, based on a well-known Spanish folk tale and several popular Spanish folk tunes, is continuously rhythmic, colorful, and infectious.

Moreover, Ernest Ansermet's 1961 Decca recording of it contains one of the best all-around performances of the ballet you'll find, and the sound remains among the best as well. That the performance and sound are so good should not surprise anyone, though, considering that Ansermet premiered the work in 1919, and the folks at Decca in the early Sixties were at the peak of their recording prowess.

Anyway, Ansermet has a genuine feeling for this music, presenting it as well as any conductor could, the rhythms vibrant and the spirits high. Moreover, Ansermet provides all the wit, charm, beauty, and, yes, melodrama the score has to offer, making it a most-entertaining affair.

Oddly, after all the sparkle and vitality Ansermet offers up in the Falla piece, he seems rather casual in the coupling, Espana, by French composer Emmanuel Chabrier (18411-1894). In fact, you could say Ansermet actually gives us a fairly lackluster interpretation. Three years had gone by between the two performances; maybe the conductor was just getting older and slowing down. In any case, I couldn't recommend this recording of the Chabrier very high on my list; there are too many other, more lively accounts. Still, with so splendid a rendering of the Falla work at hand, I can certainly get behind the disc as a whole.

Ernest Ansermet
Producer Michael Bremner and engineer James Walker recorded the Falla music in February 1961 at Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, and HDTT remastered and transferred it to disc from a London 4-track tape. Producer John Mordler and engineer James Lock recorded the Chabrier piece in December 1964 at Victoria Hall, Geneva, and HDTT remastered and transferred it to disc from a 15ips 2-track tape.

Of course, the Falla recording has been a favorite among audiophiles since the very beginning, but my trouble with it was that my first experience hearing it was on vinyl at a friend's house in the early Seventies, and I thought at the time it sounded hard, bright, edgy, and glassy. Now, remastered, I find splendid. It comes across sounding very dynamic, with excellent range and impact. In addition, the acoustic displays plenty of depth and air, as well a pleasingly natural hall ambience. You listen not just to the music but into it. The combination of dynamics and dimensionality makes the aural presentation as lifelike as one could want. Midrange definition is smooth and transparent, with no forwardness or edge. Highs extend out nicely and contribute to the sound's realism. Bass comes through strongly and deeply, further enhancing the you-are-there experience.

For further information on HDTT's various configurations, formats (CD, HQCD, FLAC, DSD, DVD-24, DVD-24, etc.), discs, downloads, and prices, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


  1. So what format did you review this in, John?

  2. This was one of HDTT's regular CD's. No doubt, their HQCD, Blu-ray, and FLAC formats would probably sound even nicer, although certainly the CD is no slouch, as I say in my review.

  3. Comparing this CD to the FiM release, which would you say had the better-sounding remastering?

  4. I prefer the FIM remaster, which uses the original master tape as its source rather than the regular, commercial tape. However, the FIM disc (if it's still available since FIM is now out of business following its owner's death) is almost three times more expensive.

  5. Haven't heard it yet, but I'm curious to hear how the new Analogue Productions SACD sounds.


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa