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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan Lake, Op. 20: suite* (1875-6) [27:44]
The Nutcracker, Op. 71: suite (1891-2) [23:08]
The Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66: suite (1888-9) [20:00]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
rec. Symphony Hall, Boston, *November 1978; December 1990. ADD, DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON ENTRÉE 477 5009 [71:04]



While a disc of Tchaikovsky ballet excerpts was a logical candidate for DG's mid-priced "Entrée" line - supposedly intended to introduce classical music to newcomers - I'm not sure that Ozawa's performances are necessarily the best choices. Then again, would any of DG's back-catalogue alternatives: the once-ubiquitous Karajan suites, for example, or the idiosyncratic and artificial-sounding Rostropovich ones - have been any better?
 
There is no "official" Swan Lake suite. Each recording represents the conductor's own selection of movements - although it was more likely the producer who chose these excerpts from Ozawa's complete recording. The first few items make a strong impression. The Boston Symphony is luxury casting in the Scène, where the strings articulate their running figures with thrilling precision; and the Act I Waltz offers a solid, compact sonority and a modicum of grace. But Ozawa elicits, or at least allows, a blaring, undifferentiated sound in tutti, an odd shortcoming from a conductor who made his early mark as a colorist. This spoils the biggest moments - in the dramatic finale, for example, the brasses calling across the orchestra don't stand out sufficiently against their surroundings. Ultimately, I was reminded of why Ozawa's complete Swan Lake fell depressingly flat.
 
There is an official Nutcracker Suite, designated as Op. 71a in the composer's catalogue, but look at the headnote carefully - this isn't quite it. Here, all the right movements are played in the right order, but they, too, are excerpted from a complete Nutcracker; thus we hear the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy with its fleet coda, which is actually more effective than the familiar truncated ending. Ozawa mostly plays these characteristic dances - which aren't typical of the score as a whole - with the right sort of lightness, but, again, the cello episode in the otherwise richly-colored Waltz of the Flowers is loud and overbearing.
 
The Sleeping Beauty selections - an arbitrary choice, like the Swan Lake set - originally appeared as filler for Ozawa's 2-CD Nutcracker, and that, unfortunately, is how they come off. The various movements "sound good", in a generalized way, marred by the sort of passing ensemble mis-coordinations that suggest a first-class orchestra playing well but inattentively. The solo work by the principals is unfailingly beautiful, of course. The vivid, resplendent Waltz - the BSO must love waltzes, since they play them beautifully - at least ends the program in a positive mood.
 
The sound is good, though it doesn't particularly suggest Symphony Hall as I've heard it. The digitally recorded Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty selections reproduce in tutti with an edge absent from Swan Lake's analog originals.
 
Stephen Francis Vasta

 

 

 

 

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