Les Ballets Russes Vol. 5

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COMPOSERS: Falla,Prokofiev
LABELS: Hanssler
WORKS: Falla: El Sombrero de tres picos; Prokofiev: Chout (The Buffoon)
PERFORMER: Ofelia Sala (soprano); SWR SO Baden-Baden & Freiburg/Fabrice Bollon, Kirill Karabits


Volume 5 of John Neumeier’s Ballets Russes project, featuring two works that surely appeal to opposite musical tastes, ties together their tales of come-uppance with vital and idiomatic orchestral playing.

Conductor Fabrice Bollon obtains an outstanding performance from the SWR Symphony Orchestra of Falla’s Three-cornered Hat. Weighty and unhurried, it has a confident feel for the dance rhythms and a rubato that springs from the musical moment: listen to the way it swings into the catchy recurring phrases of the Afternoon scene, or the verve that launches the finale.

Bollon’s pacing allows space for well-judged accents and plenty of characterful phrasing from the strings and several woodwind principals. But he accelerates persuasively enough in the Miller’s Dance, and builds up momentum to the ballet’s concluding climaxes while keeping the textures unusually lucid within a recorded sound that is immediate but resonant. 

Prokofiev’s scenario in Chout may be big on calculation and brutality, but it has an absurd quality that let him downplay the shock element in favour of a more typical agility and delicacy. With a different conductor the orchestra becomes a vehicle for lightness of touch, hurtling pace and vivid colour, woodwind again impressing as they enjoy their feast of brilliant scoring.

It should go down particularly well with followers of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, where Kirill Karabits became principal conductor last year and is running his own Diaghilev mini-series.


If you prefer more musically themed couplings, there’s a good choice: for Falla Asturias/Valdés (Naxos) or the veteran Philharmonia/Frühbeck (EMI), and for Chout, LSO/Abbado (Decca) or – in the complete ballet – WDR/Michail Jurowski (CPO). Robert Maycock