Top 10 ballet recordings

Gramophone Tue 14th January 2014

The 10 greatest ballet scores in classic recordings, from Tchaikovsky to Copland

Introduction

There’s music written for the ballet that is rarely detached from the dance (Løvenskiold’s for La Sylphide); there’s ballet music that lives as happily in the theatre pit as in the concert-hall (Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker); and then there are ballet scores that are far more frequently heard in the concert hall than in the dance-theatre (Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring). This list draws on those scores – invariably by ‘great composers’ – that have huge impact when detached from the dancing.

If there was one nation that gave us more superb ballet scores than any other, it was Russia – Tchaikovsky composed magnificent music for The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty and those scores represent a pinnacle of traditional classical ballet (tutus and finely drilled corps de ballet). A new wave of ballet scores, shepherded into existence by the inspired and Svengali-esque impresario Serge Diaghilev include some of Stravinsky’s greatest ballets, The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring, as well as Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, Debussy’s Jeux, and a trio of scores by Prokofiev). Prokofiev’s Soviet-period Romeo and Juliet, whose birth-pangs were long and painful, has also become one of the 20th-century’s best-loved compositions (with a couple of suites as concert off-shoots). Ballet in America, led by some of the greatest choreographers of the modern age (George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham), produced some magnificent scores – music that is as often heard in the concert hall as on the dance stage.

No 1

Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet

London Symphony Orchestra / Valery Gergiev

'Although Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet is not through-composed in...' Review

No 2

Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Simon Rattle

'The shift towards Tchaikovsky that Andris Nelsons has been...' Review

No 3

Tchaikovsky Swan Lake

Montreal Symphony Orchestra / Charles Dutoit

'This new Decca version of Swan Lake is an absolutely complete...Review

No 4

Stravinsky The Firebird

Monte-Carlo Philharmonic / Yakov Kreizberg

'This splendid Stravinsky album is witness to all he had begun...Review

No 5

Delibes Coppélia

Lyon Opera Orchestra / Kent Nagano

'Perhaps the last thing the cover illustration of this double CD set would lead one...Review

No 6

Ravel Daphnis et Chloé

Lyon National Orchestra / Jun Märkl

We know from the discs made with the Lyon National Orchestra when John Eliot Gardiner...Review

No 7

Adam Giselle

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden / Richard Bonynge

'One might wonder why Decca and Bonynge should wish to...Review

No 8

Khachaturian Spartacus

RSNO / Neeme Järvi

'Khachaturian's ballet, Spartacus, first produced in 1956, was a judicious, and...Review

No 9

Copland Appalachian Spring

San Francisco Symphony / Michael Tilson Thomas

'They’ve already dazzled us with "Copland the Modernist"...Review

No 10

Bernstein Fancy Free

Nashville Symphony / Andrew Mogrelia

'Thirty years earlier, Fancy Free was wowing New York musical...' Review

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