Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty (CD review)

Mikhail Pletnev, Russian National Orchestra. DG 289 457-2 (2-disc set).

Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty ballet has always lurked in the shadow of his other two great ballets, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. I daresay, with the exception of the big first-act waltz, most people would be hard pressed to identify much of it without prompting. But in the past couple of decades, the work has received several good recordings (including a budget-priced one from Naxos) to accompany such old favorites as those from Previn (EMI), Dorati (Philips), and Rozhdestvensky (BBC). Since Mikhail Pletnev and his Russian National Orchestra provided us with such a splendid Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony a few years before this 2000 release, I had high expectations for his Sleeping Beauty. I wasn't terribly disappointed.

The performance sounds as polished as one could hope for: refined, subtle, and especially expansive in the slower movements. It is a serious interpretation, generally taking the slow parts cautiously and slow paced and the faster sections a tad faster than most other conductors. Compared to my reference, Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra, Pletnev seems almost grave at times, yet he also takes some tempos at a clip that would challenge the most nimble of dancers. Previn, on the other hand, has the lighter, more lyrical, more dance-like touch.

Mikhail Pletnev
There is no denying that Pletnev's baronial approach is enjoyable, but it may be a little too urbane for music of such obvious sensual and emotional appeal. No reservations about the playing, however. The Russian National Orchestra perform the work with elegance and refinement in abundance.

DG's digital sound, recorded in 1997, is somewhat heavier and smoother than EMI's 1974 analogue sound for Previn, and the DG sonics are not quite as detailed through the midrange. Nor is there as much depth to DG's orchestral field or as much ambiance as from the older EMI. Indeed, the DG sounds a little flat and dry by comparison. However, I did like DG's slightly more resonant string tone than EMI's. The sound of neither recording is exactly state-of-the-art, but neither recording offers any real displeasure.

Of minor note: The Pletnev recording offers a total of sixty-three tracking points, the Previn seventy-seven. Both are plenty. Overall, I'd say the Previn rendering is a more balletic approach; the Pletnev is more of a concert performance. Although they're both satisfying, if I had to pick just one, it would still be the Previn.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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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