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Peter TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Swan Lake (Ballet Suite) Op. 20 (1877)
Sleeping Beauty (Ballet Suite) Op. 92 (1890)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. Watford Town Hall, 30-31 March 1987
TELARC CD-80151 [65’31"]

This is another of Telarc’s successful reissues of discs previously issued at full price. Sir Charles Mackerras is a well known Tchaikovskian, as well as being a superb ballet conductor, and so he is well equipped to direct these suites from two of Tchaikovsky’s three full-length ballets.

The Royal Philharmonic was on good form when these recordings were made. So with Telarc’s superb recording quality, this is a release that deserves to do well, except for one factor. Whilst not long enough for the complete suite, there is sufficient space left on the disc to include a suite from the Nutcracker, which would bring the present release into direct competition with a number of competitive discs. Alternatively, more music from either of the current two ballets could have been included; probably not practicable because they were not recorded at the time. The current disc’s content is therefore relatively poor value for money. It is not as though the company couldn’t have included the Nutcracker, as they recorded the complete ballet in 1986 with Sir Charles, this time with the London Symphony Orchestra. I am afraid that Telarc have missed an opportunity here. As the company is re-releasing earlier recordings, often combining two discs onto one, this is even more surprising.

The disc is also strangely balanced, with 25 minutes of Sleeping Beauty followed by 41 minutes of Swan Lake. Just under 40 minutes from each ballet would have been feasible. The main highlights of Sleeping Beauty are there, with the Introduction, Rose Adagio, Puss in Boots and the White Cat, the Panorama, Waltz, The Three Ivans Act III, No. 28, and the Polacca from Act III, No. 22.

When we reach Swan Lake, the selection is much greater – the Waltz from Act 1, No. 2, Scene Act II, No 10, Dance of the Swans Act II, No.13, Parts 1 – 4, the Pas de Deux, Act 1, No. 5, Parts 1, 2 and 4, the Hungarian Dance Act III, No. 20, and Nos. 28 and 29 from Act IV, the finale to the ballet.

The other strange thing about this release - which I am quite prepared to accept - is that the disc front, and sleeve-notes list Sleeping Beauty followed by Swan Lake, whereas on the disc itself Swan Lake is first. The track listing however is correct.

We are treated to the usual sonic feast of a typical Telarc release: extreme clarity, full bass and very low background. There is the usual caution that some playback equipment will have problems dealing with the extremes of the dynamic range and a warning that loudspeakers are in potential danger of damage. These recordings have, by and large, always been the same – digital recording and editing techniques throughout the entire process, without the use of transformers. This means that the dynamic range of the original performance is maintained, whatever the final effect on the disc.

The performances of both suites are fine, except for the smallest sense of sleepiness which creeps in every once in a while. Specific examples are the Panorama (Sleeping Beauty), the Scene Act II, No. 10, parts of the Dance of the Swans, Act II No. 13, parts of the Pas de Deux, but by the time the finale is reached, conductor and orchestra are thrillingly in synch.

Recommended, with reservations, primarily over the playing time, rather than the performances or recordings.

John Phillips


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