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Swan Lake, Op.20 - Ballet in Three Acts (1875)
(Mariinsky performing edn 1895) [106:59]
of the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg/Valery Gergiev
rec. Mariinsky Theatre, 28 May- 4 June 2006
DECCA 475 7669 [58:49
+ 48:10] Highlights disc 475 9080 [76:15]
two releases present the reviewer with something of a conundrum.
Playing and conducting are of the sort of quality we have
come to expect from this source, but there are compromises.
Decca trumpets a ‘spectacular new studio recording of Tchaikovsky’s
complete score’ over the 2-cd set, and here’s the first problem – it’s
nothing of the sort. It has been recorded under studio conditions
in the empty Mariinsky Theatre - of which more later - but
when you see a total time of around 107 minutes, you know
it’s not the full score, which generally runs at nearer 150
minutes. The clue is on the back cover, where it states in
quite small print ‘Mariinsky performing version’ – and nothing
else. Only in the inner booklet is the buyer filled in on
turns out to be a recording of an 1895 revision prepared
by the composer’s brother Modest, in conjunction with the
conductor Riccardo Drigo and choreographer Marius Petipa.
It dilutes much of the original, not just cutting da capo repeats
- as others do - but excising whole chunks and altering the
running order. If you don’t know the score that well, or
are used to highlights discs, then enjoyment may be relatively
unaffected, but if you really want the score complete – and
it is worth it – then you need to think carefully.
illustrate just a few cases of what’s been done here: Act
1’s ‘Pas de deux’ has been needlessly moved to Act 3, with
its ending altered. Act 3 itself has many cuts, with some
familiar numbers - including the ‘Pas de six’ and its variations
- simply gone, others conflated without improvement. Act
2’s No.11 suffers an unnecessary cut that also changes its
climactic, typically Tchaikovskian, brass fanfare. Keys have
been altered to make some of the changes work, so the composer’s
subtle structural thoughts are spoilt. In Act 4 there are
even uncharacteristic orchestrations of some of his piano
music to replace more familiar numbers; so Tchaikovsky’s ‘Danses
de petits cygnes’ is replaced at this point by a Drigo-arranged ‘Valses
bluette’. I’m sure others will find more examples – remember,
40 minutes is gone – but you get the idea. Of course, there
are attempts to justify it all in the booklet, with one paragraph
entitled ‘The Mariinsky Version: a hot line to 1895’ which
seeks to persuade us it’s all for the best. I remain unconvinced.
you pays your money …. The playing has great virtuosity and
fervour, and is full of the sort of flair we expect from
Gergiev and his forces. There’s some wonderful solo work,
but the recording strikes me as somewhat bass heavy, though
it is better balanced than some things I’ve heard from this
source. The conundrum mentioned earlier is that, in all honesty,
it’s virtually impossible to recommend the ‘full’ version
over the highlights disc, which is very well filled and doesn’t
make the cuts as obvious. However it is at full price. On
the other hand the two-disc set is priced at upper-mid level.
If you feel you must have this conductor,
who has a dedicated
fan-base, you might consider the DVD of the production that
preceded this recording.
Either way, the CD competition is
too fierce for any sort of unqualified recommendation, and
the prospective buyer is well advised to seek out alternatives.
There is Yablonski and his Russian State Symphony recording
on budget Naxos; this has been very well reviewed elsewhere.
I also have a high regard for veteran ballet conductor John
Lanchbery’s excellent 1982 Philharmonia version on Classics
for Pleasure, full of superb woodwind and sumptuous strings
and beautifully recorded. This is at budget price. It is
also to be had coupled with complete versions of the other
two ballets on CFP at around £18.00 for six discs, a true
bargain. In state-of-the-art modern digital, there is Dutoit – also
Decca and an obvious rival for Gergiev - or Slatkin and his
St. Louis orchestra on RCA, both highly regarded and complete
in a much more acceptable sense. It may be unduly negative
towards this new Decca set, but I do think the potential
purchaser is being rather misled here.
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