I Love Ballet – Highlights from various world famous ballet scores
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Swan Lake (1875-76), The Nutcracker (1892), Sleeping Beauty (1888-89)
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891) Coppélia (1870), Sylvia (1876)
William Turner WALTON (1902-1983) Façade (1922)
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Romeo and Juliet (1835-36), Cinderella (1940-44)
Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856) Giselle (1844)
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886) La Gioconda (1876)
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849) Les Sylphides (1909)
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880) Gaité Parisienne (1938)
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921) The Dying Swan (1905)
John LANCHBERY (1923-2003) Tales of Beatrix Potter (1970)
Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900) Pineapple Poll
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978) Gayaneh (1939-41)
Ferdinand HÉROLD (1791-1833) La fille mal gardée (1828)
Compilation 2009, DDD/ADD
Booklet notes in English, German and French
Full track listing at end of review
EMI CLASSICS 50999 9 67020 2 4 [76.24+77.55]

The immediate thing that struck me, as I unpacked this two-disc set, was the obvious indication that ballet is for women! The excessive “girlie” package, in different shades of pink, with a drawing of a ballerina in the middle of white stars of various sizes, nearly put me in a foul mood! I do not like stereotypes and I thought that in this our 21st century, people actually understood that ballet is an art-form, which appeals and can be appreciated by both sexes without discrimination. Judging by the packaging of the present compilation, I was wrong! And now with that off my chest, I will actually write about this anthology entitled “I Love Ballet”.

The important thing to bear in mind when one listens to this set, is that it actually is completely irrelevant whether you love or hate ballet or whether you are male or female. The absolute star is the music. There is no better introduction to ballet music than Tchaikovsky’s marvellous score to Swan Lake, which forms tracks one to four of the first CD. This is followed by more Tchaikovsky with The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. What we have here are the ultimate highlights, the most inspiring and arguably the best pieces ever composed for the ballet and these were all written by Tchaikovsky. The extracts from the three ballet scores are beautifully performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra under the illustrious baton of composer and conductor, John Lanchery, who died in 2003. The music speaks for itself and if one is not moved by its dramatic, emotional power or its witty, magical moments, as for example the lovely Puss in Boots and the White Cat, from Sleeping Beauty; then I fear one has a heart of stone! The Tchaikovsky tracks represent the peak of this compilation, closely followed by the charming highlights of Delibes’s Coppélia, two magnificent passages from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and the most significant moments of Cinderella by the same composer. Coppélia is beautifully delivered by the Orchestre du Théàtre National de l’ Opéra de Paris, conducted by Jean-Baptiste Mari in a recording from 1977. The various parts of both Prokofiev ballets – Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella – are performed by the London Symphony Orchestra led by André Previn. The first is a recording from 1973, which I found a little dry, lacking sentimental intensity particularly in the balcony scene, though the orchestra’s performance is technically excellent. The second was recorded ten years later, in 1983, and is a very fine delivery by both conductor and orchestra.

There are some other pleasant, very popular moments from a series of celebrated pieces: Khachaturian’s famous Sabre Dance from Gayaneh; Saint-Saëns’ The Swan from Carnival of the Animals, choreographed, as The Dying Swan, by Mikhail Fokine for the fabulous Anna Pavlova who premiered it in 1905; and The Dance of the Hours, possibly known to most people from the wonderful sequence with the ballet-dancing hippos, ostriches, alligators and elephants in Walt Disney’s 1940 animated feature film Fantasia. The music was composed by Ponchielli and is from his opera La Gioconda. We are delivered here an excellent, energetic interpretation by Karajan with the Philharmonia, in a recording from 1961.

The quality of the compilation is sadly not uniform throughout. The best CD is the first with all the Tchaikovsky ballets, Delibes’s Coppélia and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Besides Cinderella and the famous, short pieces that I have mentioned above, CD 2 does not have many memorable moments. The obligatory passages from Adam’s Giselle and Delibes’s Sylvia are very fine indeed, particularly the latter where the excitement of the huntresses is wonderfully captured by Sir Charles Mackerras with the New Philharmonia Orchestra. However, I felt untouched and slightly let down by the performance of Chopin’s music in Les Sylphides and I was unable to relate to the Tales of Beatrix Potter and La fille mal gardée without actually having the dancers moving in front of me.

Overall, the sound quality is excellent and although some of the earlier recordings were remastered before, the whole compilation was digitally remastered once again with the technology available in 2009, which to my mind considerably increased the clarity of the music.

In spite of my initial disappointment with the exceedingly pink package, I Love Ballet is overall an attractive compilation of some very good music and other, slightly less good but pleasant enough. Above all, I think it is an excellent introduction to classical ballet music for beginners of all ages and at £8.50 for a two-CD set actually very good value for money.

Margarida Mota-Bull

Full track listing
Swan Lake (1875-76) Act II: Scene [2.31], Dance of the Little Swans [1.27]; Act III: Spanish Dance [2.33], Neapolitan Dance [2.00]
Philharmonia Orchestra / John Lanchbery, rec. 1982
The Nutcracker (1892) Act I: March [2.24]; Act II: Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy [2.22], Trepak: Russian Dance [1.09], Chocolate: Spanish Dance [1.10], Coffee: Arab Dance [3.35], Tea: Chinese Dance [0.59], Dance of the Reed Flutes [2.35], Waltz of the Flowers [7.26]
Philharmonia Orchestra / John Lanchbery, rec. 1982
Sleeping Beauty (1888-89) Act I: Rose Adagio [6.36]; Act III: Puss in Boots and the White Cat [2.15], The Bluebird and Princess Florine (Pas de deux, Variation 1, Variation 2, Coda) [5.08], Red Riding Hood and the Wolf [1.11]
Philharmonia Orchestra / John Lanchbery, rec. 1982
Coppélia (1870) Act I: Waltz [2.42], Mazurka [4.41]; Act II: Waltz of the Doll [2.16]; Act III: Celebration Dance [1.36]
Orchestre du Théàtre National de l’ Opéra de Paris / Jean-Baptiste Mari, rec. 1977
Sylvia (1876) Act I: The Huntresses [3.44]; Act III: Pizzicati [1.48]
New Philharmonia Orchestra / Sir Charles Mackerras, rec. 1970
William Turner WALTON
Façade (1922) Polka [1.23], Popular Song [2.24]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Malcolm Sargent, rec. 1961
Romeo and Juliet (1835-36) Act I: Dance of the Knights [5.39], Balcony Scene [8.35]
London Symphony Orchestra / André Previn, rec. 1973
Cinderella (1940-44) Act I: Dance with the Shawl [3.30], Spring Fairy 1.25], Summer Fairy [1.44], Grasshoppers and Dragonflies [0.52], Autumn Fairy [1.30], Winter Fairy [1.15], Cinderella’s departure for the ball [2.14]; Act II: Duet of the sisters with their oranges [1.32], Pas de deux: The Prince and Cinderella [4.45]
London Symphony Orchestra / André Previn, rec. 1983
Adolphe ADAM
Giselle (1844) Act I: Waltz [3.54]; Act II: Pas de deux [4.25]
Philharmonia Orchestra / Robert Irving, rec. 1962
La Gioconda (1876) Act III: Dance of the Hours [9.50]
Philharmonia Orchestra / Herbert von Karajan, rec. 1961
Frédéric CHOPIN
Les Sylphides: Prelude in A Op. 28 No. 7 (1835-39) [3.18], Grande Valse brillante in E flat Op. 18 (1831-32) [5.00]
Philharmonia Orchestra / Robert Irving, rec. 1959
Gaité Parisienne (1938) Overture [2.17]
Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra / Manuel Rosenthal, rec. 1977
The Dying Swan: Carnival of the Animals (The Swan) (1886) [2.33]
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Louis Frémaux, rec. 1975
Tales of Beatrix Potter (1970) Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s Laundry [2.20], The Mouse Waltz [4.47]
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden / John Lanchbery, rec. 1971 in association with G. W. Films Ltd
Pineapple Poll: Opening Dance [3.43]
London Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Charles Mackerras, rec. 1978
Gayaneh (1939-41) Sabre Dance [2.20]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Yuri Temirkanov, rec. 1986
Ferdinand HÉROLD
La fille mal gardée (1828) Act I: Dance of the Cock and Hens [1.07], Widow Simone – Clog Dance [2.40]; Act II: Finale [4.24]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Barry Wordsworth, rec. 1988