I don’t often listen to suites from Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballets. Over the many years I was a mainstream commercial broadcaster I overdosed on those parts of The Nutcracker that are ubiquitous at Christmas time. But I recently decided to put on the complete ballet and it turned out to be a wonderful discovery.
Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre Moscow, Alexander Vedernikov
Alexander Vedernikov leads the Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theater Moscow in an an exquisite performance, beautifully recorded by the folks at Pentatone. I was blown away by the wonderful music I heard. Oh yes, the VERY familiar parts were still there, but they made far more sense when surrounded by the complete work. Listening reminded me of years ago,the first time I heard all of this music years ago as conducted by Antal Dorati in a landmark recording. So – if you’re OD’d on The Nutcracker’s greatest hits, try the whole thing. You’ll thank me.
And that experience made me dig out some more ballet music!
Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer
I remember one New York reviewer stating “This is the Rite of Spring I’ve been waiting for my whole life,” in a review of a live concert by Ivan Fischer and his band. And I can see why! I have at least 20 different Rites lurking in my library, but my favorites have always been Stravinsky’s own stereo recording and Leonard Bernstein’s recording with the NYPO— both more than 50 years old now. Ivan Fischer doesn’t go for the flashy bombastic approach, but there no absence of drama and genuine excitement. Fischer and the BFO capture the pagan Russian atmosphere perfectly. How amazing this must have been when Monteux conducted the premiere on the 29th of May, 1913! And that’s just 19 years after The Nutcracker premiered in St. Petersburg! Reports vary on just how much of a “riot” there was, but history was certainly made! As a bonus on this album you also get a fine Firebird Suite— and the famous Tango. Channel Classic’s sound is unsurpassed.
Okay, we’ve got two of the world’s most famous ballets out of the way, but there’s more!
London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
|Qualities:||DSD 128fs, 64fs, DXD|
There are many different combinations of “suites” from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, certainly another of the world’s favorite ballets. There’s nothing wrong with the suites, but I really enjoy the whole thing. Both Gergiev and Petrenko get wonderful performances from their orchestras, and both recordings are top quality. From the time it was released, Gergiev with the LSO has been critically acclaimed, but I personally give the Petrenko the edge. His interpretation is full of life, and I personally prefer the recording quality by a just a bit. You can’t go wrong with either one. Yes, I do love Prokofiev– a unique musical voice of the 20th Century.
If you prefer shorter doses, Alexander Vedernikov has another set with the Russian National Orchestra:
Russian National Orchestra
Suite No. 1 from Romeo and Juliet is delightfully played and you also get very fine suites from Khachaturian’s Spartacus and Shostakovich’s The Bolt. A little variety never hurt anyone. Incidentally the three composers were all born within 15 years of each other, but their music was very individual. Overall, a lovely album, well recorded.
Next to France and Maurice Ravel:
Het Gelders Orkest
Antonello Manacorda conducts the Het Gelders Orkest in Ravel’s Mother Goose, originally a suite of piano pieces for four hands, enlarged and orchestrated by Ravel as a ballet in 1912. I wasn’t familiar with either the Antonello Manacorda or the orchestra, and I’ve got Monteux etched on my brain– but this is really lovely. A child’s wonderland comes alive with wonderful playing and a great recording. And you get a top tier performance of Debussy’s La Mer as well. Don’t hesitate because the conductor and orchestra may not be as familiar as some. Highly recommended!
But there’s more Ravel:
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg
Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe, like Stravinsky’s Rite, was composed for Diaghalev’s Ballets Russes, with the premiere conducted by Pierre Monteux. It was just a year earlier, in 1912. This is another example of the full length version being much better than the commonly heard suites! Rising star Gustavo Gimeno conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg in a lush and lavish Daphnis et Chloe that yields very little to the landmark recordings of Monteux, Martinon, and Ansermet. The audio quality is outstanding, by the way.
Now, a transcription or two:
I know we’ve covered Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet pretty completely, but this recording is of the original piano suite that preceded the finished opera. Sergey Koudriakov plays the original piano score with such vitality that you won’t miss the orchestra. And then he’s joined by soloists of the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra in Paul Hindemith’s The Four Temperaments, a piece for modern dance. I consider this album to be one of the very best discoveries I’ve made while exploring Native DSD. Take a listen to the segments.
And finally, Manuel de Falla’s Ballet, El Amor Brujo along with pieces from El Sombrero de Tres Picos transcribed for two guitars by the amazing Katona Twins. Falla’s music often suggests Gypsy and Flamenco and this transcription by the Katonas make it seem like it might have been done originally like this.
Ballet, tangos, waltzes, even a foxtrot or two. There’s a lot more dancing discoveries to make – and you can dance the night away!