Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Sleeping Beauty Op. 66 - Ballet in a Prologue and Three Acts (1888) [155:10]
James Ehnes (violin); Robert DeMaine (cello); Johannes Wik (harp)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. 18-23 June 2012, Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway. Hybrid SACD
reviewed in SACD surround 5.0.
CHANDOS CHSA 5113(2) [77:14 + 77:56] 

The Sleeping Beauty
is frequently cut, but according to the excellent sleeve-notes, this recording is absolutely complete. It includes, for example, the aristocratic dances in the 1st Tableau of Act 2 and the dance of the Sapphire Fairy, the Pas Berrichon and the Sarabande in Act 3. Stravinsky declared The Sleeping Beauty to be Tchaikovsky's chef d'oeuvre and he was not far wrong, for it demonstrates many of the composer's best musical characteristics: it is tuneful, dramatic, skilfully orchestrated and never dull. The composer himself was 'charmed and delighted beyond all description' by the scenario. 'It suits me perfectly and I ask for nothing more than to set it to music.' When, after just a few weeks, he had finished the composition, he wrote to his patron, Nadezhda von Meck: 'I think, my dear friend, that the music of this ballet will comprise one of my best works'. He did have trouble with the scoring but that was because he wished to use new instrumental combinations. This splendid recording makes it obvious that he, for example, replaces the harp with the piano as an obbligato instrument in the final act. It is sad that his first audience was unimpressed, the Tsar apparently remarked that it was 'very nice' and then haughtily dismissed the composer from his presence! We can relax because this is far more than very nice - it is a superb rendering. Neeme Järvi seems never to put a foot wrong and the Bergen orchestra impresses as much, conducted by him, as it does under its principal conductor Andrew Litton in his many recordings for BIS. The producers have pulled out all the stops and engaged no less a violinist than James Ehnes to play the important violin solos, a strikingly indulgent decision which pays dividends because Ehnes' outstanding technique makes these sections truly memorable. The Grieghallen is obviously a lovely venue because the 5.0 MCH recording has a high degree of reality, not a description I often feel able to use.
Tchaikovsky's score is unusually coherent for a ballet. Of the huge number of compositions to which choreographers regularly work, Tchaikovsky's belong, along with those of Prokofiev and Stravinsky, in the group of musically important creations which succeed in the concert hall as much as in the theatre. For many years my personal reaction to The Sleeping Beauty was somewhat muted. I have a performance by the LSO and André Previn recorded by EMI in 1974 and I have never enjoyed it as much as Swan Lake or The Nutcracker. Spending time with this new Chandos set has quite revised my opinion. The sense of dramatic structure and urgent forward motion is captivating. One is even propelled through the rather anti-climactic final act, where there is really no significant action. On stage Act 3 is really just 47 minutes of balletic bravura, properly a Divertissement, but Järvi and the Bergen band continue to treat the score seriously. As Tchaikovsky himself believed, he composed some of his very best music for this ballet, worthy to stand with the Fantasy Overture - Romeo and Juliet, Manfred and the Fifth Symphony. David Nice's sleeve-notes are right to emphasise the importance of the complete score as a significant dramatic masterpiece. 

This is a great work in a very fine performance beautifully recorded.  

Dave Billinge

see also review by Nick Barnard 

A great work in a very fine performance beautifully recorded. 

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