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Ballet Evergreens
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
“The Sleeping Beauty” Ballet Op. 66 (1890): Waltz [4:31]; “Swan Lake” Ballet Suite Op 20 (1876): No. 1 Scene [3:08]; No. 2 Waltz [7:16]; “The Nutcracker” Suite Op. 71a (1892) [23:24]
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
“Sylvia” Ballet (1876): Les Chasseresses [3:16]; Pizzicato [1:56]; Valse Lente [2:15]
Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856)
“Giselle” Ballet (1841) – Waltz [4:26]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826) Invitation to the Dance Op. 65 (1819) [9:00]
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)
“La Gioconda” Opera (1876) – Dance of the Hours [8:33]
National Ballet Orchestra/Pietro Garda
rec. Milan, 1980
REGIS RRC 1286 [74:37]


I suspect that if you were invited to choose the most popular and tuneful short items of nineteenth century ballet music many if not all of these would be on your list. Even if you feel, when listening to it, that the selection would be improved by adding a few less hackneyed items – perhaps part of Beethoven’s “The Creatures of Prometheus” or Sullivan’s “Victoria and Merrie England” – that would contradict the disc’s clear intention of choosing only the most familiar of excerpts from the most familiar of ballets. The only exception to this is the “Dance of the Hours”, which is rarely performed as a ballet outside the opera - although a production by Opera North a few years ago omitted it without any harm, and indeed some gain, to the effect of the opera. I would imagine that it is included here essentially because of its popularity as a purely orchestral work. 

The performances are generally more characteristic of the concert hall than of the theatre, but there is much to be said for the flexibility and care over texture that this implies when no dancers are visible and when at one point five waltzes follow each other in quick succession. Their variety of character prevents monotony – but only just. The orchestra is apparently made up of professionals from various Milan orchestras. Their performances are lively and competent without being remarkable. I found the recording uncomfortable, at times a little dry and fierce whilst not achieving the characteristic dryness of a theatre acoustic.

All this may sound somewhat grudging of praise, and that would be a pity as essentially this is a disc that does exactly what it says on the box – it contains “a feast of great themes from the world of ballet music all on one disc”. If that is what you want, and you accept performances and recordings that have been exceeded elsewhere, but possibly not all on one disc, then this is the disc for you. 

John Sheppard




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