WORKS: Swan Lake; The Sleeping Beauty; The Nutcracker
PERFORMER: Vienna PO/James Levine
CATALOGUE NO: 437 806-2 DDD
Levine sets aside his grandest manner for a brisker sweep through the most familiar numbers of the three Tchaikovsky ballets. Yet the phrasing can be over-emphatic and, apart from the Swan Lake finale, its brash rhetoric successfully trimmed, the emotional high spots need more space. Gergiev, too, is swiftly dramatic, but more instinctively so; it is the highest tribute to his pacing that these excerpts from his complete Sleeping Beauty seem to flow naturally into one another here. Besides, this is the best possible companion for last November’s cover CD of the ballet suites: not only does the conducting style provide an alternative to Ermler’s expansive opulence, but Philips also includes the most bewitching symphonic episode, the ‘Sleep’ entr’acte, to set alongside our own choice of key narratives from the other ballets.
The sounds of the two orchestras are characteristic: burnished Vienna strings offset by anodyne woodwind (the wan oboe makes a sorry start), the polished Kirov ensemble somehow glowing within its theatre’s unspectacular acoustics. Inevitably, Gergiev’s sequence will not please everyone. I miss the introduction to the fairies’ Pas de six, spotlighting the Kirov’s superb principal clarinet; and to end on the two plums from Act I means sidestepping the grand Pas de deux.
If you still want the three suites, there’s Rostropovich’s sumptuous Seventies recording on mid-price DG Galleria; otherwise look no further than Ermler and Gergiev. David Nice