Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake, complete ballet (CD Review)


Valery Gergiev, Orchestra of the Marinsky Theatre. Decca 475 7669. 2-disc set.

With Gergiev you get exactly what you expect to get: an exciting, exhilarating, fast-paced adrenaline rush. If that's the kind of performance you want in your Tchaikovsky (and, after all, it is Tchaikovsky), that's what you'll find here.

The thing about Tchaikovsky's ballets, though, is that they don't always respond well to the kind of big, fast, energetic treatments that the later symphonies do. And that seems to be Gergiev's signature. Coincidentally, the same day I decided to listen to this new Gergiev interpretation of Swan Lake on Decca, I received in the mail a highlights disc of the work I had ordered from Amazon. It was something I had never found on CD before but had owned long ago on LP; namely, the 1961 Anatole Fistoulari recording with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, also on Decca. So, after listening to the first of the two Gergiev discs, I put the Fistoulari on and gave it a go. I have to admit, I was in an altogether different world. Where Gergiev was all thunder and lightning, Fistoulari was Old World--elegant, refined, relaxed, and sweeping. Maybe I'm just an old fogey, but I much preferred Fistoulari.

Now, here's the other thing: As I listened to the Gergiev set, a 2007 studio recording, I enjoyed the strong dynamics and the impressive impact. Because over forty-five years separated the two records, I expected the older Fistoulari disc to sound considerably less impressive. Surprise. While the older recording was almost as dynamic, it added a smoother yet just as detailed midrange, a better bloom, and a more extended high end. Indeed, when I went back to the Gergiev, the newer recording actually sounded slightly duller and more muffled to me, especially in the upper mids.

I'm not sure what to make of this. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with the new Gergiev set, if you don't mind leaving the performance somewhat exhausted. But the old Fistoulari fully lived up to my memory of it and will undoubtedly provide me the longer-lasting listening pleasure. In any case, if it's a complete Swan Lake you're looking for, you can't go far wrong with Gergiev. However, I would also suggest Andre Previn's 1976 EMI set as perhaps the best compromise possible in the complete ballet; he's both lively and graceful, and the sound is still first rate--the best of all possible worlds.

JJP

1 comment:

  1. Its really is a classical masterpiece , 3 thumbs to the artist.

    ReplyDelete

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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