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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]
rec. Symphony Hall, Boston, *November 1978; December 1990.
ENTRÉE 477 5009 [71:04]
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?
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.
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.
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
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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