TCHAIKOVSKY Swan Lake
This new Decca version of Swan Lake is an absolutely complete recording of Tchaikovsky's original score, but including also the ''Russian dance'' in Act 3 (No. 20a, which the composer added after the first performance for the dancer, Pelegaya Karpakova) and the ''Pas de deux'' for Siegfried and Odile another addition (an Introduction, two variations and coda, of which Tchaikovsky orchestrated only the second variation). The ''Pas de deux'' (No. 5) which has sometimes recently been interpolated into Act 3 is now restored to its right place in Act 1 The layout is ideal with Acts 1and 2 on the first CD and Acts 3 and 4 on the second. This makes nonsense of the cuts which were made when the excellent Lanchbery/EMI set was transferred to a pair of CFP discs, as that performance plays for a minute less! Otherwise Lanchbery's set remains very competitive, somewhat more theatrical in feeling than Dutoit's and equally well played.
The Montreal performance is, however, in every way recommendable. The very opening sets the seal on Dutoit's approach and the aptness of his pacing, with the warm introduction leading through a perfectly managed accelerando to the Allegro giusto and elsewhere the tempo relationships maintain the structural flow of Tchaikovsky's four carefully conceived sections, almost like the four movements of a ballet-symphony, with a distinct key structure. Yet Dutoit revels in the imaginative orchestral colour and the diversity of the individual sections of the ''Pas de deux'', ''Pas de trois'', ''Pas de six'' and the famous ''Danses de cygnes'', and it is irritating that these various sections are not individually banded, although each separate number is cued. Here in the famous dance/duet between Siegfried and Odile the Montreal violin soloist (Chantal Juillet) could ideally have sounded more glamorous, her cello companion (Guy Forquet) sounds wonderfully warm by comparison. But she is splendid in the interpolated ''Danse russe''. Dutoit finds the rhythmic spring throughout, yet is elegant in the lyrical music and the two famous waltzes have attractive panache. It is above all a romantic reading, and rises to the occasion, appropriately reaching its peak in the great final scene, where the Swan theme is giving its frisson-creating transformation at the B major climax. Here the resplendent Decca recording is wonderfully expansive and throughout the glowing St Eustache acoustic adds much to the beauty of the sound.
Dutoit's approach does not always bring out the passionately Russian impulse to the score in the way of (for instance) Fistoulari's old Decca set (10/74) with the Netherlands Radio orchestra (perhaps that will reappear on CD one day, even though it has the disadvantage of Decca's artificially balanced Phase 4 recording) and at times there is more zest in the Lanchbery set, but I do not want to make too much of this. This new Decca recording is magnificent: it is given state-of-the-art sound and is very well documented indeed. There is an excellent introduction on the work's history from Noel Goodwin and John Warrack's exemplary synopsis not only relates the narrative to the music, number by number, but tells us about the composer's self-borrowings from his operas Undine and The Voyevoda. I reviewed Michael Tilson Thomas's LSO set very favourably last April, and his lively, polished LSO performance has slightly more temperament than Dutoit's. But that Sony version omits the additional Siegfried/Odile ''Pas de deux'', and even on performance/recording grounds I would now regard Dutoit as a clear first choice.'