Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Swan Lake
PERFORMER: Philadelphia Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch
A tentative Strauss Heldenleben in the concert hall and an unhappy Domestic Symphony on disc – admired in these pages, but to my ears poorly coordinated and monstrously misconceived – made me wonder whether the Sawallisch-Philadelphia partnership would ever take wing. Here, at last, it soars a little. Tchaikovsky and Sawallisch may not be obvious bedfellows, and it’s true that the conductor stops short both of vivace in over-careful divertissement codas and of agitato in the lakeside narratives; the final apotheosis, too, embarrasses him. But when sweep and breadth are called for, the Philadelphia is aristocratic. Tchaikovsky’s string of ingenious waltzes are suavely phrased, the Act One Polonaise has never been more welcome to linger and the strings always prove capable of the fullest tone, Russian-style, when required. Sawallisch won’t be hurried but, despite that, the entire ballet – including the supplementary Pas de Deux mostly orchestrated by Vissarion Shebalin, and most repeats – still fits on to two full-to-the-brim CDs. Even Dutoit on Decca, Jonathan Swain’s ‘Library Choice’, had to shed the reprise of the famous Swan theme at the end of Act 2 (No. 14); Sawallisch transforms it to show the extra urgency the leitmotif has acquired since the act began. Such thoughtful touches make this a Swan Lake to take seriously, even though Svetlanov and Ermler tell a bolder tale; the rich, spacious sound is always a delight. David Nice