> Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake Ballet [JP]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
Swan Lake Ballet - complete, (1877)
The Sleeping Beauty Ballet – complete, (1890)
The Nutcracker Ballet – complete, (1892)
Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by John Lanchbery with the Ambrosian Singers (Nutcracker).
recorded March – May and July 1982 in Abbey Road Studios, London.
[6CDs: 366.26]


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Classics for Pleasure are back in business, and have a new numbering scheme as well as a complete overhaul of marketing identity resulting in extremely smart looking releases. Not only are they releasing previous CFP titles, although these account for most of them, they are also issuing recordings from the EMI stable; the current issue is one of these.

Lanchbery’s interpretations of the Tchaikovsky’s ballets have been in and out of the catalogue fairly frequently over the years. The most recent presence was in the form of excerpts on Eminence. They have usually had to compete with some very high class versions. The company has been quite smart with the current release however, having the great idea of releasing all three ballets in a normal double case (6 CDs) and charging only about £20.00 for the whole lot.

This is equivalent to less than the cost of one ballet at full price, also cheaper than the much inferior performances and recordings on Naxos. Given that we have full price digital readings from one of the country’s top orchestras, conducted by a person well steeped in ballet performances, I can’t see how CFP can fail. The only competing issues of all three ballets are by Previn/LSO (no longer available) and Bonynge/National Philharmonic (available but more expensive).

The Nutcracker occupies the first two discs, held in a slimline double case occupying the position normally holding the first disc in a double. The ballet is complete, and in the Divertissement in Act 1, Scene 2, there is an additional dance orchestrated by Lanchbery. This comes as a bit of a surprise to a listener who knows the ballet very well. It was originally a piano piece, and it fits into the score quite well.

The performances of this and indeed the other two ballets are excellent. I was surprised to find that most of the set pieces were done with such vividness and élan. I was expecting to have to listen to rather slow, drawn out, items because of the influence of pacing for the ballet dancers. Apart from one or two pieces, there is life and enjoyment in these recordings, which I am sure that most listeners will warm to. Disc 1 band 6 (The Grandfather’s Dance) is an example of what I was expecting throughout, but let me assure you that this track is the exception rather than the rule.

The Sleeping Beauty occupies discs 3 and 4, and is complete apart from the entr’acte between the scenes of Act 1, and Nos. 27 and 29 in Act 3 (Pas Berrichon and Sarabande). These three items have been omitted to allow the ballet to be fitted onto two discs, so the sleeve says, and in fact with playing times of 75.51 and 73.11 I can understand the comment. However, when we have discs 1 and 2 with playing times of 44.02 and 43.33, it would be perfectly possible to include the missing items. However we would have had to have disc changes and would also prevent CFP from issuing each ballet separately as a double possible for the future. Discs 5 and 6 – another slimline double - hold the complete Swan Lake with Nos. 10, part vi of No. 13 and No.14 from Act II omitted (see comments above).

Good notes and a synopsis of each ballet are included, making an excellent inexpensive Christmas present for a lucky person.

John Phillips

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