Essential Ballet
CD 1
Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan Lake – Acts 2 and 3 extracts (1876) [14:30]
Sleeping Beauty – Act 1 extracts (1890) [11:38]
The Nutcracker – Act 2 extracts (1892) [12:29]
Ludwig MINKUS (1826-1917)
Don Quixote – Act 3 Pas de deux (1869) [7:03]
Ferdinand HÉROLD (1791-1833)
La fille mal gardée – Act 2 extracts (1828) [6:24]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Cinderella – Acts 1 and 2 extracts (1945) [10:48]
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Spartacus – Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia (extract) (1956) [4:42]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Romeo and Juliet – Act 1 extracts (1938) [10:35]
CD 2
Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856)
Giselle – Acts 1 and 2 extracts (1841) [8:24]
Riccardo DRIGO (1846-1930)
Le Corsaire – Pas de deux (1887) [6:39]
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Coppélia – Act 1 extracts (1870) [6:23]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Gaîeté Parisienne (ballet, arr. Rosenthal)overture (1938) [2:17]
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Sylvia – Pizzicati (1876) [1:48]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Petrushka – Russian dance (1911/1947) [2:29]
Apollo – Coda (1928) [3:26]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Les Sylphides (ballet, arr. Douglas) Grand valse brillante in E flat op.18 (1936) [5:00]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Les Biches – Rondeau (1924) [3:34]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Daphnis et Chloé – Danse général – bacchanale (1912) [4:54]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Symphonic variations – conclusion (1885) [4:09]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Monotones (orch. Lanchbery) – Gnossienne no.1 (1965) [2:49]
John LANCHBERY (1923-2003)
Tales of Beatrix Potter – Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s laundry (1970) [2:21]
Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Pineapple Poll (ballet, arr. Mackerras) – opening dance (1951) [3:42]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Rodeo – Hoe-down (1942) [4:12]
Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Serenade – Valse (1880; ballet, 1934) [3:38]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Jewels – Emeralds (ballet, 1967) [3:56]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Symphony in C – Finale (1855) [8:20]
Philharmonia Orchestra/John Lanchbery (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Robert Irving (Don Quixote Act 3)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth (La fille mal gardée )
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn (Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella and Daphnis and Chloé)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov (Spartacus)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Robert Irving (Giselle and Les Sylphides)
London Festival Ballet Orchestra/Terence Kern (Le Corsaire)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras (Coppélia and Sylvia)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/Manuel Rosenthal (Gaîté Parisienne)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle (Petrushka and Apollo)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Georges Prêtre (Les Biches)
Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse/Michel Plasson (Symphonic variations and Jewels)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/John Lanchbery (Tales of Beatrix Potter)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras (Pineapple Poll)
Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin (Rodeo)
City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox (Serenade and Symphony in C)
EMI CLASSICS 6486502 [78:49 + 79:12]

Surely something of a misnomer? After all, the only essential element that distinguishes ballet is that we see someone dancing or, at the very least, moving, on stage. Music is not actually necessary, let alone essential, as was discussed a few years ago on an interesting Ballet Alert! forum page – see here.

Nonetheless, taking the double-CD set’s title as really meaning “extracts from some of the scores it is essential to be aware of if you are interested in ballet” (which, had it been used, wouldn’t, I imagine, have left much space on the cover for a picture), this is a pretty good job.

John Lanchbery’s idiomatically theatrical recordings of the Tchaikovsky ballets with the Philharmonia have been much admired since their original release and still sound very impressive, in spite of coming up to their 30th birthday. The well chosen extracts on disc 1 showcase, in passing, some especially beguiling playing from violinist Christopher Warren-Green and cellist Robert Truman. André Previn was something of a Prokofiev advocate when he headed the London Symphony Orchestra (I seem to recall Alexander Nevsky featuring on BBC TV’s André Previn’s Music Night) and the Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet extracts are, as might be expected, very well done here. Shorter extracts from Minkus’s Don Quixote - Robert Irving conducting an arrangement of his own that I find far preferable to Lanchbery’s as heard on other discs in this EMI series - and Hérold’s La fille mal gardée as winningly conducted by Barry Wordsworth round off a hugely enjoyable first CD.

The contents of the second disc may well be “essential” in the eyes of EMI, but I suspect that not all tracks will necessarily be immediately appealing to a large part of the target market. When I played the discs on a long car journey, for instance, my passengers who described themselves as “enjoying a good tune” and who had loved the Tchaikovsky, the Minkus, the Khachaturian and the Romeo and Juliet (the jury remained out on the Cinderella), found Stravinsky, Poulenc and Ravel to be rather harder work. Once again, however, the performances have clearly been chosen with care and, if the repertoire appeals to you - and with the regular caveat that you should check for unnecessary duplications if collecting other issues in this series - you will certainly enjoy them a great deal.

The very nature of releases like this suggests that they are most likely to be listened to casually rather than with great concentration. Bearing that in mind, it is worth observing that the dynamic range on these discs is very wide indeed and that, when listened to in a car, the ambient noise of the vehicle forces one to turn up the volume for quiet passages only to have to turn it down again regularly whenever a dramatic and musical climax hoves into view.

Rob Maynard

Performances clearly been chosen with care and if the repertoire appeals you will certainly enjoy this generous set a great deal.