Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66 (Highlights)
see end of review for track listing
Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Mogrelia
rec. House of Arts Kosice, March-May 1991
NAXOS 8.572931 [76:59]
There are a number of ways of approaching The Sleeping Beauty (or any other ballet). Firstly, the most preferable option is to attend a live performance of the entire piece - given by one of the great international companies at one of the well-known venues such as Sadler’s Wells, Covent Garden or the Manchester Opera House. This allows the music-lover to appreciate comprehensively the total impact of the music, the movement, the scenery and the special effects. Secondly, there is the occasion to watch a first-rate presentation on the television - a live version or on DVD. Thirdly, there is the opportunity to hear the complete score on a quality sound system (or even one’s iPod) and then there is the Suite that has been extracted by the composer or another individual. Finally, there is the present CD which falls between the two stools of ‘suite and complete’. If I am honest, I am not sure what the raison d’être of this new release is, save to encourage the listener to discover some of the music not included in the Suite Op.66a. Contrariwise, it may appeal to someone who cannot endure or commit to two and half hours of the full score.
It is not necessary to give many details about this work or to relate the well-known fairy-tale ‘La belle au bois dormant’, written by Charles Perrault (1628-1703). However, it is always useful to place a work in its chronological setting. Tchaikovsky wrote The Sleeping Beauty between October 1888 and August 1889. The first performance of the work was given at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg on 15 January 1890. It was conducted by Riccardo Drigo and was choreographed by Marius Petipa. The British premiere was not until the Diaghilev production at the Alhambra Theatre, London in 1921. Since the nineteen-forties, this ballet has become one of the favourites for young and old alike.
The liner-notes give the story of the ballet in some detail and include the appropriate references to the recorded tracks. The full ballet lasts for some 160 minutes and is usually released on two or three CDs. The present version is less than half of that time - so a lot of music has been omitted. However, the upside is that the numbers have been presented in ‘score’ order so that the general narrative can be followed. Nevertheless, I do wish that Naxos had chosen to print the conventional act, section and sub-section numbers.
When the listener hears the Suite Op.66, it is soon clear that there is precious little of the score here. In fact, there are only four numbers lasting for a mere twenty minutes: it includes the ‘purple passages’ such as the ‘Pas d’action-Rose Adagio’ and the ‘Waltz’ from Act I. The present recording introduces the listener to nearly four times as much music. When looking at the track-listing it seems that the second act has been knocked about the most. Out of some eighteen numbers, there are only four given here. Out have gone the ‘Dances of the Duchesses, Baronesses, Countesses and Marchionesses’ the ‘Blind Man’s Buff’ and the ‘Farandole’. Furthermore, in the Act III the character pieces have all but disappeared. My favourites such as ‘Puss in Boots’, ‘Tom Thumb, his Brothers and the Ogre’ and ‘Little Red Riding-Hood and the Wolf’ are all excised. Everyone will have lost a much-loved dance. 

The present CD derives from the ‘commended status by The Penguin Guide’ complete recording produced some 21 years ago by the Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra under the auspices of Andrew Mogrelia. I enjoyed the music and was delighted to hear many - but by no means all - of my favourite numbers. However, when it comes to recommendations it is a slightly different matter. I personally would chose to stick with the old 1974 recording of the complete ballet (from which just ‘Tom Thumb’ and the ‘Sarabande’ are omitted) by André Previn which seems to be more ‘romantic’ with the orchestra just a little more on the ball. Yet, for the complete ballet, it is necessary to buy the three-disc set (8.550490-2) from Naxos noted above.
John France 

May appeal to someone who cannot endure two and half hours of the full score. 

Track listing

Introduction [3:21]
Le Prologue :
Marche - Entrée du Roi Florestan et sa cour [5:20]
Scène dansante - Entrée des fées bonnes [4:46]
Pas de six: Adagio [4:47]
Coulante, Fleur de Farine (Variation II) [0:33]
Fée aux Miettes (Variation III) [1:13]
Le Canari qui chante (Variation IV) [0:36]
Violente (Variation V) [1:02]
Fée des Lilas (Variation VI) [1:20]
Coda [1:51]
Act 1
Valse [4:42]
Pas d'action: Rose Adagio [6:36]
Coda [2:43]
Finale [7:56]
Act II
The Vision: Entr'acte et Scène [3:02]
Panorama [3:40]
Entr'acte symphonique (Le Sommeil) et Scene [1:34]
Finale [2:28]
The Wedding: Marche [3:30]
Polacca - Cortege des Contes de Fées [4:20]
Pas de quatre: Introduction [1:57]
La Fée - Argent (Variation II) [0:53]
La Fée - Diamant (Variation IV) [0:48]
Pas de quatre - Adagio [2:46]
Cendrillon et le Prince Fortuné (Variation I) [01:00]
Coda [1:36]
Apothéose [2:39]