Russian National Orchestra
Mikhail Pletnev, conductor
DG 457 634-2
I have been entranced by this score, discovering much more to the ballet
than the familiar Suite. There's not a dull number in two hours and forty
minutes of music, especially in such a lithe and athletic performance.
The profusion of melody is lavish - consider, for instance, the stirring
entrance for the King & Queen (CD 1  3:23 - 3:47). I like the way
Tchaikovsky often disguises the rhythm of his waltzes by placing the strong
beat in another part of the bar, and with "duple-time" sections. Special
orchestral effects are legion, and I reached for the score to figure one
"burbling" effect at the start of No. 15's Coda (CD 2 ) - one clarinet
rapidly repeats 16th note - 16th note - 8th note, while the other clarinet
plays 8th note - 16th note - 16th note at the same pitch. If my
description is unclear, the audible effect is unmistakable.
In the thread about "Bach's B minor Mass on Period Instruments" John Smyth
wrote "My composition professor often discussed Tchaikovsky's influence on
20th Century composers". My thoughts exactly when I heard certain passages
in "Sleeping Beauty" for the first time. Try these premonitions for
CD1  3:58 - 4:46 "Prediction de Carabosse": descending fourths in
strings and wind - a passage as mechanistic as a Prokofiev ostinato.
CD2  The Silver Fairy: is this the first orchestral score to
incorporate a piano, in 1889? The only previous example I know is in
Berlioz' "Fantastic Symphony" where the composer suggests a piano for
the last movement *if* bells are unavailable.
CD2  In this 5/4 dance, I picture the Sapphire Fairy chewing a blade of
prairie-grass, as if she'd just galloped over from Copland's "Rodeo"!
CD2  As Red Riding Hood skips ahead of the Wolf, the music seems to
parody Stravinsky's rhythms and dry-biscuit neo-classical orchestration.
Dancers who tried to follow Pletnev's direction would stub their toes, the
tempi are usually so snappy and swift. I enjoyed his swoons of rubato in
the "Rose" Adagio, particularly as he takes the famous "Sleeping Beauty"
Waltz quite slow and straight. Divided violins show off the score's
frequent antiphonal effects. All the music is crammed onto two CDs in
magnificent sound which could wake *anyone* out of a 100-year sleep.
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