About this Recording
8.553271 - TCHAIKOVSKY: Nutcracker (The) / Swan Lake / Sleeping Beauty (Highlights)

Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)

The Nutcracker
Swan Lake
The Sleeping Beauty

The music of Tchaikovsky, in spite of the reservations of contemporaries at home and abroad, must seem to us both essentially Russian and firmly in the West European tradition. In Vienna the critic Eduard Hanslick was able to complain of the "trivial Cossack cheer" of the finale of the Violin Concerto, but in Russia Tchaikovsky never went far enough to please the self-appointed leader of musical nationalists, Balakirev. While by no means a miniaturist, he nevertheless excelled in his mastery of the smaller forms necessary in ballet, writing music that displayed his remarkable gifts of melody and skill in orchestration.

Tchaikovsky was born in 1840, the son of a chief inspector of mines in Government service in Votkinsk and educated at first at home by a beloved governess and later at the St Petersburg School of Jurisprudence, in preparation for a career in the Ministry of Justice. This he was to abandon in 1863, when he entered the newly established St Petersburg Conservatory, the first of its kind in Russia. Three years later he joined the staff of the new Conservatory in Moscow, directed by Nikolay Rubinstein, brother of the composer and pianist Anton Rubinstein, who had founded its counterpart in St Petersburg.

Tchaikovsky, abnormally sensitive and diffident, and tormented by his own homosexuality that seemed to isolate him from the society of the time, had already made a considerable impression as a composer, when an unwise, face-saving marriage in 1877 brought complete nervous collapse and immediate separation from his new wife. In 1878 he was able to resign from the Conservatory, thanks to the assistance of a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, whom he was never to meet but who offered him both financial and moral support. After the St Petersburg performance of his Sixth Symphony, Tchaikovsky died, it is thought by his own hand, compelled to this step by a court of honour of his fellows from the School of Jurisprudence, after threats of exposure and scandal resulting from a liaison with a young nobleman. His death was widely mourned both in Russia and abroad, where his music had won considerable favour.

Tchaikovsky's compositions include three full-length ballets, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beautyand The Nutcracker. The first of these had its early origin in a home entertainment devised for the children of his sister Sasha, who had settled at Kamenka in the Ukraine. The adult ballet was completed in 1876 in response to a commission from the Imperial Theatre Directorate in Moscow and was first performed at the Bolshoy Theatre there in March, 1876, with choreography by the Austrian, Wenzel Reisinger. The work was unfavourably received, its music seeming unusually substantial for the occasion, and the production inept. The ballet was to win success after the composers death, when it was mounted at the Maryinsky in St Petersburg in 1895, with choreography by Ivanov and Marius Petipa. The score served to re-establish the importance of music in ballet, after years in which it had been generally neglected in favour of the activity on stage.

The libretto of Swan Lake is based on an old German fairy-story, printed in the collection by Johann Karl August Musaeus, at the height of Romantic interest in matters of this kind. Princess Odette has been changed into a white swan by the wicked magician Rotbart. Prince Siegfried meets Odette in human form by the lake and swears to marry her, but Rotbart attempts to frustrate this planned breaking of his spell by substituting his own daughter, Odile, in the form of a black swan, for Odette. Rotbart is nearly successful in his malicious design, but is defeated in the end by the power of love, as Siegfried and Odette are united, although in some versions of the ballet the pair are united not in life but in death in a storm conjured up by Rotbart.

The ballet opens with a celebration of Siegfried's coming of age, a time at which he should choose a bride. The appearance of a f1ight of swans suggested the idea of a swan-hunt, on which the Prince and his friends set out. In the second act Siegfried, separated from his companions, meets Odette, who explains to him her sad fate, incurring the immediate wrath of Rotbart. Siegfried invites her to a ball at the castle, the scene of the third act. There Siegfried is to choose a bride and is deceived by the appearance of Rotbart and his daughter Odile, in the guise of Odette. He pledges his faith to Odile, a clap of thunder is heard and Rotbart and Odile disappear in triumph, while Siegfried falls senseless to the ground. In the final act, by the lake, Odette reproaches Siegfried and warns him of her coming death, but Siegfried defies Rotbart and the lovers are united.

The present recording includes the famous music for the swans, bewitched by Rotbart, dances from the Ball at the Palace of Siegfried in Act III, with Hungarian, Spanish and Neapolitan diversions, and the final scene.

Tchaikovsky's ballet The Sleeping Beauty was first performed in St. Petersburg in 1890, damned with the faintest of praise by the Tsar, who remarked that it was "very nice" .The composer himself was much less satisfied with his final score, for The Nutcracker, proposed by Marius Petipa and the Imperial Theatre Directorate in 1891 and first performed at the Maryinsky in December, 1892, again to a cool reception. The music itself, however, had already proved popular enough in a suite arranged by Tchaikovsky for a concert ear1ier in the year.

The story of the ballet is drawn from E. T .A. Hoffmann' s tale, Der Nussknacker und der Mäuserkönig. Set in the eighteenth century, initially in the house of the President of one of the German states of the period, the ballet opens with a children's Christmas party, at which Drosselmeyer, a slightly sinister adult, brings presents, a doll for Clara, the daughter of the house, and a toy soldier for Franz, her brother. When the children are told not to open their presents, Drosselmeyer quietens them by giving the two a pair of nutcrackers, promptly broken by Franz, who tries to crack the biggest nut he can find.

At night Clara creeps down to see her broken Nutcracker, and is alarmed at the open warfare that breaks out between the Mouse-king and his army and the Ginger-bread soldiers by the Christmas tree. With a well-aimed shoe, she routs the enemy, and is invited by the Nutcracker, now transformed into a handsome prince, to visit the Kingdom of Sweets, an opportunity for welcome by the Snow-king and Snow-queen and a series of character dances, including the famous Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, with its then novel use of the celesta, and dances celebrating Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, China tea, the Russian trepak, and the old woman who lived in a shoe.

Included on the present recording are the Overture, the March of the children, as they play, and some of the dances of the Second Act divertissement, where we meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Russian Trepak, and other items of the entertainment offered to Clara and her Prince by the Snow-king and Snow-queen.

The second of Tchaikovsky's full length ballets, The Sleeping Beauty, was, completed in 1889 and first performed in St Petersburg in January the following year, when Carlotta Brianza danced the role of Princess Aurora, with Pavel Gerdt as the Prince, Cecchetti as Carabosse and the choreographer Marius Petipa's daughter Maria as the Lilac Fairy. The initial response to the work was cool, damned by the faint praise of the Tsar, who remarked that it was very nice. The ballet was on1y gradually to win favour.

The commission for The Sleeping Beauty had come from Vsevolozhsky, Director of the Russian Imperial Theatres, who designed the costumes for the ballet and with Petipa had adapted the story from the fairy-tales of Charles Perrault. The Introduction already offers a glimpse of what is to come, a suggestion that there will be difficulties to surmount before Prince marries Princess and both live happily ever after. The infant Princess is to be christened, and the fairies bring their gifts, with the uninvited and spiteful Carabosse promising that the Princess will prick her finger and sleep for ever. The Lilac II Fairy offers in mitigation a reduction of sentence to a sleep of a hundred years.

The Pas d'action (Rose Adagio) is danced by the Princess now old enough to choose one of her princely suitors as a husband. The celebrations are to be interrupted by the revenge of Carabosse, who, disguised as an old woman, offers the present of a spindle, on which the Princess pricks her finger.

As we know, Princess Aurore is eventually to wake once more, when the handsome prince breaks the spell. At her wedding there is an opportunity for varied entertainment, the divertissement including a character dance for Puss- in-Boots and other creatures from the world of Perrault. Before this we have seen the enchanted forest (Panorama) through which the Prince must make his way and have heard the famous Sleeping Beauty Waltz of the first act, before the tragedy and its happy reversal.

Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra has benefited considerably from the work of its distinguished conductors. These include Vaclav Talich (1949 -1952), Ludovit Rajter, Ladislav Slovak and Libor Pesek. Zdenek Kosler also had a long and distinguished association with the orchestra and conducted many of its most successful recordings, among them the complete symphonies of Dvorak.

Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief. The orchestra has given successful concerts both at horne and abroad, in Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Hong Kong and Japan. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Miaskovsky and other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Bliss, lbert and Khachaturian as well as several volumes of the label's Johann Strauss Edition. Naxos recordings include symphonies and ballets by Tchaikovsky, and symphonies by Berlioz and Saint-Saëns.

Michael Halasz
Michael Halasz's first engagement as a conductor was at the Munich Gärtnerplatz Theater, where, from 1972 to 1975, he directed all operetta productions. In 1975 he moved to Frankfurt as principal Kapellmeister under Christoph von Dohnányi, working with the most distinguished singers and conducting the most important works of the operatic repertoire. Engagements as a guest-conductor followed, and in 1977 Dohnányi took him to the Staatsoper in Hamburg as principal Kapellmeister. From 1978 to 1991 he was General Musical Director of the Hagen opera house and in 1991 he took up the post of Resident Conductor of the Vienna State Opera.

Ondrej Lenard
Ondrej Lenard was born in 1942 and had his early training in Bratislava, where, at the age of seventeen, he entered the Academy of Music and Drama, to stu4y under Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964 was given with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and during his two years of military service he conducted the Army Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing an earlier connection with the Slovak National Opera, where he has continued to direct performances.

Lenard's work with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava began in 1970 and in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the same time he has travelled widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union and elsewhere as a guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as General Music Director of the Slovak National Opera recorded for Opus operas by Puccini, Gounod, Suchon and Bellini.

For Naxos Lenard has recorded symphonies and ballet music by Tchaikovsky and works by Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov. For Marco Polo he has recorded Havergal Brian's colossal Gothic symphony to great critical ac claim in the international music press.

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