Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty - Järvi
Chandos CHSA 5113 (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66
James Ehnes (violin)
Robert deMaine (cello)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
This two-album set marks the beginning of a new project devoted to Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores. We start the survey with the complete score of The Sleeping Beauty, recorded on SACD. Swan Lake and The Nutcracker will follow in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Tchaikovsky was approached by the Director of the Imperial Theatres in St Petersburg, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, in 1888 about a possible ballet adaptation of Charles Perrault’s La Belle au bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty). The vision was to stage the production in the style of Louis XIV, allowing the musical fantasy to run high and melodies to be written in the spirit of Lully, Bach, and Rameau. This proposal for a fairy-tale ballet rooted firmly in both the rococo and baroque periods appealed to Tchaikovsky, and The Sleeping Beauty was premiered in 1890, with choreography by Petipa, the principal choreographer of his day.
Elaborately constructed, the ballet places its focus undeniably on the two main conflicting forces of good (the Lilac Fairy) and evil (Carabosse). Each has a representative leitmotif, which runs through the entire ballet, serving as an important thread to the underlying plot. Tchaikovsky’s use of what, at the time, were considered new and unorthodox instrumental combinations went on to inspire a new generation of composers, among them Stravinsky, who declared The Sleeping Beauty to be Tchaikovsky’s chef d’œuvre.
The Sleeping Beauty is here performed by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra under Neeme Järvi, who is celebrating two major milestones this year: a thirty-year recording career with Chandos Records, and his own seventy-fifth birthday. Orchestra and conductor are joined by the pre-eminent violinist James Ehnes, one of the most dynamic and exciting performers in classical music today.
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Review by Graham Williams - November 28, 2012
At last a long awaited and much requested complete recording of 'The Sleeping Beauty' arrives on SACD!
Neeme Järvi's cycle of the Tchaikovsky symphonies and other his other orchestral works with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra have, in general, received very mixed reviews. Here, however, Järvi and the excellent Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra deliver a truly committed and thrilling account of one of Tchaikovsky's finest scores.
It has been interesting to compare this new recording with that by Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra on DGG – unfortunately only available on CD. In terms of performance both are most recommendable, and the differences between them are fairly minor. Järvi, as many of his recent recordings have shown, tends on the whole to adopt very brisk tempi, though there are a number of sections where he is marginally slower than Pletnev and vice versa. Occasionally one is disconcerted by Järvi's unwillingness to relax sufficiently – his rapid tempo for the well-known 'Panorama' does this ravishing piece no favours – but elsewhere his vital conducting pays dividends. Both versions are squeezed on to two well-filled discs ( Pletnev 79' and 80', Järvi 77'14” and 77'56”).
It was a splendid idea for Chandos to engage their star violinist James Ehnes to perform the gratifying solos that Tchaikovsky has provided in this ballet such as the 'Variation d'Aurore' in Act 1 and the lovely 'Andante sostenuto entr'acte' that ends the first Tableau of Act 2. Ehnes performs these enchanting pieces with his usual ravishing tone, elegance and poise.
For the cello solo of the 'Scene d'Aurore et de Désiré the distinguished cellist Robert de Maine joins the orchestra. As well as being the principal cellist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for many years De Maine has also been a guest principal with the Bergen P O. The warmth and richness of his playing here speak for themselves.
The players of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra have many soloistic opportunities in this score and acquit themselves throughout with the utmost distinction. In addition they demonstrate an undoubted rapport with this conductor, perhaps as a result of the spate of recordings he has recently made with them of the music of Halvorsen and Svendsen (sadly not on SACD).
The recording (5.0, 24bit/96kHz) by Ralph Couzens and his colleagues from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) captures the ample acoustic of the Grieghallen in Bergen admirably and provides the warm and glamorous sound this music deserves.
The two discs come neatly packaged in a double CD case within a cardboard slip case that also contains a 60-page booklet with detailed notes and a synopsis of the ballet's action by David Nice.
It is interesting to note that Chandos will be recording the other two great Tchaikovsky ballets with the same artists - an enticing prospect. In the meantime, this bracingly performed and finely engineered set can be confidently recommended as a timely Christmas release.
Copyright © 2012 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net