Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty
The Bergen Philharmonic proves an ideal instrument for one of Tchaikovsky’s most magical scores. Neeme Järvi’s every demand is met with immaculate playing, recorded in a warm but not too resonant acoustic, and you are soon swept up by their characterful account of the Prologue and Act I: the sense of bustling excitement that opens Act I and the wonderfully detailed playing of the waltz that follows demonstrate the strengths of this performance.
That said, Järvi chooses some quirky tempos, notably Act II’s Panorama (where the Lilac Fairy transports the Prince in her boat to Aurora’s castle) and the opening of Act III’s Pas de Quatre, both taken more swiftly than usual. While Järvi’s sensitive shaping of the Act III number is persuasive, his Panorama effectively foregrounds its three-against-two rhythm, making it sound like a clockwork-driven piece rather than a magical drifting into the enchanted realm of the Sleeping Beauty.
It is only two minutes in an otherwise superlative account, but by the measure of most other recordings, it should be much closer to three minutes, if not more, and Järvi’s too swift traversal effectively kills one of the score’s most haunting gems. This is a great pity as there is plenty here to delight lovers of this ballet. Newcomers, though, should start elsewhere. Some swear by Antal Dorati (on Decca), but for a complete digital recording I prefer Mikhail Pletnev’s more sure sense of drama and tempo.