Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake - Järvi
Chandos CHSA 5124 (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake, Op. 20
James Ehnes, violin
Johannes Wik, harp
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
This is the second instalment in our series devoted to Tchaikovsky’s three great ballets. Neeme Järvi and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra initiated the project last year with the complete score of The Sleeping Beauty. Here they present another, equally well-loved work: Swan Lake. Once again they bring us the complete uncut version of the score, with the pre-eminent James Ehnes lending his magic to the violin solos. The complete score of The Nutcracker will follow in 2014.
In Swan Lake, the Swan Queen takes her melancholy, oboe-led place among the composer’s many heroes and heroines destined never to know lasting fulfilment in love. The story tells of Odette, a princess turned by an evil sorcerer’s curse into a swan, and thus caught between the human and supernatural worlds, until she is finally released from the spell, and united in death with her true love.
This was Tchaikovsky’s first full-length ballet, but its premiere in 1875, staged at Moscow’s Bolshoy Theatre, was by no means a resounding success. According to most accounts, the choreography was inept, the shabby sets and costumes were borrowed from other productions, and the orchestral playing was poor.
As such, most ballet companies today base their productions on the 1895 revival by the pre-eminent choreographer Marius Petipa, staged for the Imperial Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. For this revival, Tchaikovsky’s score was revised by the composer Riccardo Drigo, also the chief conductor of the St Petersburg Imperial Theatre. Although these amendments may have served the conventional 1890s notion of ‘danceability’, one may argue that the overall cuts and reordering ultimately destroyed Tchaikovsky’s ground-plan of drama and tonality.
In this recording, we present Tchaikovsky’s original score of twenty-nine numbers and four acts, written for the Bolshoy Theatre, along with several supplementary numbers provided not long after the initial 1875 premiere.
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Review by John Broggio - September 27, 2013
Like his account of Sleeping Beauty before, Neeme Jarvi thoroughly deserves plaudits here as well.
The only other complete modern account on SACD is Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake (ballet) - Yablonsky and this far outshines the Naxos in almost every possible aspect. On the extra-musical side, the notes are a wonderful essay by David Nice that not only describes all the numbers with unerring accuracy of character but also sheds a revealing light on the composer and his thinking in the midst of composing this wonderful score.
But getting back to the real matter at hand, the Bergen Philharmonic are a far cry from the raw passion offered by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Dmitry Yablonsky. Some may well yearn for the idiosyncratic approach to corporate tuning and ensemble of the Russian band but the sheer beauty & blend of sonority from the Norwegian players is a source of constant pleasure. Jarvi too revels in the quality of his forces, at times taking more time than Yablonsky but frequently pressing on but thanks to the Bergen forces, rarely does it sound driven. As is now (fortunately) customary on disc, Jarvi opts for all the numbers Tchaikovsky composed & in the order he originally intended, making for two well-filled discs.
From the off, the thoughtfulness of interpretation is evident; the sotto voce playing first heard in No. 1 (Scene) is both completely audible but so is the fact that the Bergen Philharmonic are playing sotto voce - a magical moment. Elsewhere, where the emotional temperature rises, Jarvi keeps a cool head. Compared to great accounts of (parts of) this score, it is possible to find conductors that generate more heat but equally it is welcome relief to hear the score passionately but not histrionically rendered. Rarely has the Coda to No. 4 (Pas de Trois) sounded less hackneyed; in Jarvi's hands, it simply expresses joy.
No. 8 (Danse des Coupes) is one of those moments when, in lesser hands, the tempo adopted would simply have felt too fast and being uncomfortably pressed; here the apparently effortless virtuosity of the Bergen players makes Jarvi's demands sound enchanting and not in the least forced. The central section where the glockenspiel and piccolo is played as if the two players were in fact one - a delight to the ear and soul in equal measure. The faster than usual tempo for No. 8 then immediately makes the more conventional tempo for No. 9 (Finale I) sound more expansive by contrast and yet keep the musical momentum flowing.
Throughout - perhaps best represented by the Pas de Quatre from No. 13 (Danses des Cygnes) - Jarvi and the Bergen Philharmonic conspire to render very familiar music as if they had only recently set eyes upon it for there is not the merest hint of routine or boredom from anyone. The same qualities are found constantly in Acts III & IV which set the seal on a wonderful 2.5hrs of music making of a very high standard. There is a spontaneity here that sadly eluded Jarvi in his survey of the Tchaikovsky symphonies and the closing peroration is marvellously judged.
As in Sleeping Beauty, Chandos have engaged the wonderful James Ehnes to play the concertante role. For all the surface sheen that Ehnes brings, he selflessly integrates his part into the musical whole and is not in the least audibly spotlit by Chandos. In one of many nice touches in this set, Chandos also credits the many solos that harpist Johannes Wik, cellist Robert deMaine, cornetist Gary Peterson give, as well as the two leaders serving under Jarvi: Melina Mandozzi & Oyvind Bjora. One does wonder though why their equally superb first oboe does not also merit a mention!
One mildly irritating aspect of Jarvi's interpretation is his decision not to seat the violins antiphonally. The frustration is felt especially at moments such as the final Scene of Act IV where the violins pass the opening motif to each other; the recording is exceptional in allowing the relatively recessed position of the second violins to be heard but this was a musical opportunity that went begging.
Turning to technical matters momentarily, the sheer tangibility of the sound from Chandos is a far cry from their earlier attempts at MCH beauty: this is the real deal and allows the wide dynamic range of the playing to be heard to thrilling effect. Not only is there clarity, truthful timbres & large dynamic range but the impact that the percussion instruments is "felt", not just heard, without obscuring harmonic & melodic interest.
Very highly recommended indeed.
Copyright © 2013 John Broggio and HRAudio.net
Review by Graham Williams - October 8, 2013
That the veteran conductor Neeme Järvi shows no sign of diminishing powers in his 76th year is clearly evinced by the unfettered exuberance of this new complete recording of Tchaikovsky's ever popular ballet 'Swan Lake'.
Järvi's Tchaikovskian sympathies have, over many years, been clearly demonstrated by the many fine recordings he has made of virtually all of Tchaikovsky's orchestral works, and most recently by his wonderful recording of the Sleeping Beauty Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty - Järvi whose success was thanks to a combination of Järvi's vital conducting, the excellent playing of the Bergen Philharmonic orchestra and the superb Chandos multi-channel recording.
All the qualities found on that issue are once again present in this thrilling account of Tchaikovsky's ever popular ballet. Järvi's tempi are, for the most part, on the fast side making this a performance one can appreciate for the accomplished orchestral playing rather than one which dancers could perform. Some of the conductor's interpretative quirks are once again in evidence such as the sudden diminuendos in the Act 1 Waltz that might perhaps become irritating on repeated hearing, but these are few and far between and in no way detract from his marvellous performance of the full original score of 29 numbers.
As in the earlier 'Sleeping Beauty' recording the services of the superb violinist James Ehnes have been enlisted to play the solo violin passages such as the Andante of the Act I Pas de Deux (No. V) and the Act II Pas d'Action (Odette et le Prince) – one of Tchaikovsky's loveliest creations - where he is joined by Johannes Wik, harp, and Robert de Maine, cello. Special praise must also be given to the sprightly cornet playing of Gary Peterson in the Third Act's Dance Napolitaine.
Once again the Grieghallen, Bergen has proved to be an ideal acoustic for this wonderful music, whose splendour is again captured in magnificent multi-channel sound.
A release not to be missed.
Copyright © 2013 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net