Swans, footballers and a baby elephant make for an unusual ballet troupe on this disc of Russian dances. The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande boast a fine pedigree when it comes to Russian ballet. Ernest Ansermet, its founder, was a gifted interpreter of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, making many excellent recordings in the early days of stereo. Under Kazuki Yamada, the orchestra continues that tradition, though in weightier sound and weightier performances.
The eight-movement version of the suite from Swan Lake brings expansive playing and a firmer oboe tone than the somewhat vinegary sound in Ansermet’s day. The lakeside pas de deux is a highlight, with glittering, nuanced harp (Notburga Puskas) and poetic violin and cello solos. Olivier Bombrun sparkles in the tricky cornet solo in the ‘Danse napolitaine’. However, Ansermet leads more evocative accounts, with perkier cygnets and, in the Waltz, feathery strings lighter on their feet. Yamada is just a bit too flat-footed to compete with the best.
Composed before he’d tried his hand at ballet, Glazunov’s two Concert Waltzes nod firmly in the direction of Tchaikovsky, the Russian master of the art. These are beguilingly played by the SRO, elegant and refined, blooming in the warm acoustic of Geneva’s Victoria Hall, even if Ansermet brought them off with more élan.
Shostakovich was a great football fan, particularly of his home club Zenit St Petersburg. The Golden Age is a ballet that depicts a Soviet team’s away match in an unspecified Western city during which a number of bizarre events occur. Yamada draws lovely playing in the tender Adagio, full of bittersweet strings and not a hint of parody or cynicism. Also included in the four-movement suite is a spiky polka, led by xylophone and winds, which is wonderfully cheeky.
Another fun polka concludes this enjoyable if random collection: the one Stravinsky wrote in 1942 for the Barnum & Bailey circus in which elephants performed in pink tutus. Combining heavy grotesquery with witty references – most notably Schubert’s Marche militaire No 1 – this ballet for playful pachyderm ran and ran, receiving no fewer than 425 performances!