Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake - Mikhail Pletnev

PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY - SWAN LAKE (Complete ballet) - Mikhail Pletnev (Conductor) - Russian National Orchestra - 2CDs - Ondine ODE1167-2D

Mikhail Pletnev's special affinity for the ballet music of Tchaikovsky yielded a series of piano transcriptions from the scores of these stage works. The special connection was also evident in 1999 when DG released a complete recording of The Sleeping Beauty by Pletnev and the RNO. The set achieved immediate benchmark performance status and this account of Swan Lake is deserving of a similar accolade. It is an outstanding, full-blooded orchestral rendition with everything except the thump of point shoes landing on the boards.

One need not be a balletomane to enjoy ballet music. The big tunes may be familiar from the more frequently heard suite but a traversal of the complete score allows the narrative sweep to unfold through all fifty index points on the discs and aided by the synopsis of the action in Malcolm MacDonald's excellent booklet note. The listener can also just sit back and allow this kinetic music shorn of the discipline of symphonic logic to beguile the ear. The RNO is in stupendous form under its founding conductor and Ondine presents a spectacular sound stage. It is impressive for a listener of middle age to notice the triangle tinkling from the left tweeter as the orchestra builds up to a mighty crescendo. It is interesting that the producer and engineer for this album, Rainer Maillard was also present for the DG Sleeping Beauty sessions twelve years before. The recording venue, the great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, is the same.

For pure excitement and powerful orchestral articulation, this version of Swan Lake sweeps the board. Pletnev's urgent interpretation is a full five minutes faster overall than Dmitry Yablonsky and the Russian State Symphony Orchestra for Naxos in 2001. The OSM version under Charles Dutoit (Decca) is effectively eclipsed. The Russian National Orchestra and Mikhail Pletnev also perform Rimsky-Korsakov orchestral suites on a PentaTone Hybrid SACD (PTC 5186 362).

Stephen Habington