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Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, July 2010

One of the sad facts of life is that, in most cases, the musical portions of most ballet videos are in no way comparable to the best recordings of those scores. Such is the case with Swan Lake. Reading the reviews of available DVDs, not one video performance has a conductor who can match the likes of Antal Doráti, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Mark Ermler, Maurice Abravanel, or Seiji Ozawa. But then, not all of these recordings present the music at a danceable tempo, but at a “concert” tempo far faster than feet can fly. In this respect, Ermler and Abravanel were usually the choices of dancers, while Doráti et al. are first choices for listeners, and both of those dance choice recordings are discontinued.

Here we have a recording that satisfies both demands in a no-longer-overcrowded field. I’ve been a huge fan of Mikhail Pletnev as a conductor, and this particular orchestra, since their first release in the early 1990s, and this disc does nothing to dispel my enthusiasm. Pletnev and the orchestra achieve perfect synergy in this performance, dishing up elegance and drama in the right proportions with the most stupendous orchestral sound I’ve heard since Solti’s Chicago Symphony…what will inspire you is Pletnev’s flawless reading of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. And make no mistake, this is a masterpiece. As much as I love Nutcracker, as good as some of that score is, there’s no way that, as an organic composition, it comes close to Swan Lake (a conclusion that Tchaikovsky also reached).

Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, July 2010

…excellent new recording of Swan Lake…Pletnev emphasizes clarity, elegance, and a fair amount of big-picture discipline. This doesn’t preclude drama by any means, and there is certainly plenty of spectacle, but this is generally lean, agile Tchaikovsky, where forward motion is the rule. Pletnev does relax into the more lyrical sections, but never becomes sentimental. Those who demand that the “big tunes” gush need not apply; this is the antithesis of a highly-molded symphonic performance, à la Bonynge on Decca. Instead, there are abrupt contrasts, strong driving rhythms, and steady tempos within sections—very much a dancer’s performance. The way this conductor launches into a new section is often unexpected, very physical—suggesting the sudden motion of the dancers—and very exciting. Finales are propulsive, but so well articulated that they never seem rushed. Waltzes are performed with an appealing lilt, and the act III national dances are flavorful. Only occasionally, as in the act II Dance of the Swans, does one wonder at an unconventional tempo, but even here the relationship to the larger section eventually vindicates the choice. The two discs contain the whole score, minus the supplemental act III Russian Dance and Pas de deux, both included by Previn and Bonynge, which were added for later performances.

The Russian National Orchestra, recently included in a Gramophone magazine list of the top 20 orchestras in the world, certainly validates its ranking in this release. The strings are sweet and articulate; a most expressive section…overall, this is both a virtuoso and an eloquent ensemble with fine soloists. In particular, I must single out the lovely violin solos by concertmaster Alexei Bruni in the act I Pas de deux and the act II dance of Odette and the Prince, the latter with equally expressive principal cellist Alexander Gottgelf.

Obviously, Pletnev’s exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon is now a thing of the past. This Ondine release is the first in what is expected to be a continuing relationship, though according to a company representative there are no specific plans for the next release. Those who admired the results that DG obtained in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory will be pleased to learn that this recording has been produced and engineered by Rainer Maillard, who engineered all of the Yellow Label releases, with all post-production done at Emil Berliner Studios. The results are predictably fine: warm, detailed, with the hall resonance evident at climaxes but never intrusive and with some very potent bass. Given the bracing performance and excellent sound, this not only joins my CD favorites…it actually surpasses them. Highly recommended. And who knows what epithet that response might earn.

John Warrack
Gramophone, June 2010

Pletnev turns Tchaikovsky’s great ballet into a driving orchestral showpiece.

Jeremy Nicholas
Classic FM, June 2010

Pletnev and his crack forces play the high-energy numbers for all they are worth while not neglecting the charm and swooning romanticism of other sections…vividly recorded and never less than captivating.

David Nice
BBC Music Magazine, June 2010

The RNO’s sounds has certainly improved over the years, especially in the woodwind department…Pletnev does ignite the big moments.

Ballet Review, June 2010

Most complete recordings of Swan Lake prefer Tchaikovsky’s 1876 original to the adaptation Drigo made in 1895 for Petipa and Ivanov, as does Mikhail Pletnev in his brilliant new version with his Russian National Orchestra. And as in most recordings his tempos are for listening, not dancing, with some swift passages and tempo fluctuations that are effective but aren’t practical onstage. The original showsthecomposer’sinexperience(orbadadvice), with its overlong first act, including the extended pas de deux nowknownas the Black Swanwhile act 3 has none, but the adaptation upsetsTchaikovsky’skeyrelationshipsaswell as trims a number of repeats, among other cuts. The only versions I know using the 1895 adaptation Fistoulari’s slightly abridged 1952 reading, now on Opus Kura, and Fedotov’s from 1994, now on Classical Records.

Pletnev has some of his own ideas on tempo and emphasis without disturbing the flow and keeps all the repeats, but like most conductors doesn’t include the pas de deux and Russian Dance written for Sobeshchanskaya soon after the premiere. The notes are good.

Robert Benson, March 2010

After the triumphant success of his take on Beethoven's symphonies, Mikhail Pletnev now conducts this magnificent recording of Tchaikovsky's complete Swan Lake ballet. Pletnev is a specialist in music of his compatriot. Almost two decades ago he made his remarkable recording of the Pathétique with the then new Russian National Orchestra, and since that time has recorded all of Tchaikovsky's major orchestral works as well as music for piano and orchestra in which he was soloist. In addition, we can see stunning performances of Pletnev as soloist with the Moscow Radio Symphony directed by Vladimir Fedoseyev from concerts in 1991 issued on DVD by Arthaus Musik (102129). There's not a dull moment in this version of Swan Lake, and the Russian orchestra has the right sound and virtuosity to do justice to it. Ondine's engineering is superb—a quality issue!

David Hurwitz, February 2010

Mikhail Pletnev really is a fine ballet conductor, far more successful at characterizing short genre pieces than at sustaining the symphonic drama of large movements in sonata form. Witness how well his cool demeanor, emphasis on precision, and preference for fleet tempos serves the music of Swan Lake, in stark contrast to his dull versions of the same composer’s symphonies (save for his first recording of the Sixth for Virgin Classics). Right from the first act’s initial Allegro giusto, with its tight and vivacious string ensemble, it’s clear that this will be an excellent performance. Pletnev follows with an elegantly lilting Valse and some really energetic characteristic dances in the latter half of Act 3.

Happily, he also allows himself a welcome degree of freedom in the ballet’s more lyrical moments. Even if the strings aren’t quite as luscious as they might be in the Big Tune (as we find in, say, Boston or Philadelphia), they still play with plenty of power, and Pletnev’s treatment of the brass and percussion in the final apotheosis is as intelligent as it gets—extremely powerful, yet with a clarity that banishes any suggestion of empty bombast. The sonics are also very good—vivid and slightly dry—and suit the interpretation quite well. In short, this is a performance that ballet lovers and Tchaikovsky fans alike can appreciate and enjoy without hesitation.

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