Ballets Russes: Russian Dances and Ballets (CD review)

Paavo Jarvi; Marinsky Choir, St. Petersburg; Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.  Virgin Classics 7243-5-45609-2.

You're probably better at remembering things than I am because when I hear the name Paavo Jarvi I still find it hard not to think of Neeme Jarvi or Paavo Berglund. Fortunately, the younger Jarvi shares the same no-nonsense approach to music making as the older men. In this collection of famous short dances by Russian masters, Paavo Jarvi plays the music in a straightforward fashion--straightforward to a fault, I might add--and generally the music sounds the better for it.

The disc contains the usual suspects: Tchaikovsky, Khachaturian, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Glazunov, Liadov, Glinka, and Borodin. The tunes are about as familiar as the names, too: the Polonaise and Waltz from Eugene Onegin; the "Sabre Dance" from Gayaneh; the "Waltz of the Flowers" from The Nutcracker; the "Dance of the Knights" from Romeo and Juliet; the "Polovtsian Dances" from Prince Igor; etc.

Paavo Jarvi
As well, there are a few less-familiar pieces: Shostakovich's cheeky little "Polka" from The Golden Age and "Waltz No. 2" from the Jazz Suite No. 2; Liadov's "Dance of the Amazon"; Glinka's "Valse-Fantasia," among others. Nothing lasts more than a few minutes, so it's the kind of album you can pop into your player for a moment or two or linger over for a while between chores.

More important, Jarvi serves it all up comfortably. He is perhaps not as idiomatic as some conductors in this type of repertoire nor so colorful as others, but, as I've said, his direct, forthright approach lets the music speak for itself, and that can be a pleasant surprise, indeed. It's all fairly light music, after all, and in short bits it's hardly the kind of thing one can get too far into; therefore, Jarvi's honest yet lively renditions of these pieces hit a welcome sweet spot.

Originally released by Virgin in 2004 (and rereleased in 2011 by Erato on the disc pictured above), the recording is robust, to say the least, not always conforming to the audiophile's conception of good audio, perhaps, but reasonably faithful to a real-life source. The bass comes up strong, perhaps a tad overly heavy, the bass drum especially prominent when necessary. The midrange appears somewhat obscured by the bass overhang and in full bloom seems somewhat thick. The highs are maybe not always as clear or vibrant as they could be, either, and on occasion sound slightly hard and sharp. The overall sonic effect is not unpleasant, however, and will surely please listeners seeking a "big" musical experience.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa