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.


1 comment:

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


Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first 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 use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa