Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Swan Lake
PERFORMER: Russian National Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1167-2D

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 Mikhail Pletnev’s is a lake of rather frisky swans on choppy waters. Edition-wise, it floats somewhere between the complete text, including supplementary numbers, used by Sawallisch and others on the one hand, and Gergiev’s intriguing espousal of the later Mariinsky version with numbers replaced and cut by ballet hack Riccardo Drigo.

You can tell that the flow will be less than even when, after a perfect introductory oboe solo, there’s a static lingering on the clarinet response. And so it proves. Some movements are dazzlingly fast: the presto of the third variation in the Act I Pas de Six, for example, becomes a keenly articulated prestissimo. But it’s not always for the best. The party dances can turn into can-cannish knees-ups, while the lakeside narratives and scene-settings jerk between placid and hyperactive (compare the stolidly phrased Entr’acte, No. 25 and its over-speedy sequel).

The Russian National Orchestra’s sound has certainly improved over the years, especially in the woodwind department; but the strings in full flight lack the body one expects from a Slavic ensemble: only compare Rozhdestvensky’s beefy but adaptable Moscow violins in a long-unavailable classic, where the solo violinist, too, is much more expressive (reissue soonest please, Melodiya). Pletnev does ignite the big dramatic moments, but the percussion, barely in check, overwhelms the grand finale.

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For the full story, try the handsomer Philadelphia Orchestra under Sawallisch – without Pletnev’s lively idiosyncrasies, but with none of his erratic extremes either. David Nice