TCHAIKOVSKY Swan Lake (Jurowski)
Vladimir Jurowski has a beef with ballet companies and the 1895 revision of Swan Lake. In last month’s enthralling ‘The Musician and the Score’ feature, he objected to the version prepared after Tchaikovsky’s death, complaining about the reordering of music, the deletions and the slow tempos required to execute Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa’s choreography. He’s got a point, especially about the music Riccardo Drigo inserted into Act 4 (orchestrating a couple of Tchaikovsky’s piano miniatures), which punctures tension just when it should be cranking up. But the revised libretto, by the composer’s brother, Modest, is stronger; and shifting the peasants’ pas de deux from Act 1 to become the famous ‘Black Swan’ pas of Act 3 is dramatic genius.
‘The musical structure was built as if writing a symphony’, Jurowski says, arguing the case for Tchaikovsky’s original 1877 version. Well, up to a point. I’d counter that Swan Lake doesn’t quite have the same grand symphonic sweep as The Sleeping Beauty – already brilliantly recorded by the conductor and the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia ‘Evgeny Svetlanov’ (ICA Classics, 12/17). In the booklet to this excellent new account of Swan Lake, Jurowski cites elderly Soviet recordings of the original version by Rozhdestvensky and Svetlanov, taped under ‘problematic studio conditions’. He’s being a little disingenuous. Although most ballet companies’ productions are based on the 1895 revision, you’d be hard-pushed to find it on disc. Valery Gergiev recorded it with the Mariinsky (Decca), cutting the pas de six and adding Drigo’s interpolations. Most recordings follow the 1877 version. Most include the ‘Danse russe’, written for ballerina Pelageya Karpakova at the premiere, presumably because her Odile didn’t have enough to do in Act 3. Neeme Järvi and Dmitry Yablonsky additionally throw in the pas de deux Tchaikovsky was arm-twisted into composing for Anna Sobeshchanskaya (also in 1877) for Act 3. See – the need for a ‘Black Swan’ pas was obvious right from the start!
This is a terrific new account. Jurowski’s ‘Svetlanov’ Orchestra – basically the old USSR State Symphony – really has this music coursing through its veins. The orchestra still has a distinctly Russian flavour, even if the paint-stripper brass and acidic oboe of yore have been polished up. The strings are sumptuously rich, while the woodwinds are superb – the aristocratic trill with which the clarinet ends the Intrada of the pas de trois (disc 1, track 5) is outrageously good.
Jurowski’s tempos are robust – the coda to No 5 (disc 1, track 14) would be too fast even for Yulia Stepanova’s firecracker fouettés at the Bolshoi – yet most speeds are in line with many versions on disc. Indeed, setting aside the additional Sobeshchanskaya pas de deux, Neeme Järvi’s bracing Bergen account romps home a good six minutes faster. But there’s real swagger and élan to the national dances, and the violin solos – uncredited in the booklet but presumably the work of concertmaster Sergey Girshenko – have old-school charm and eloquence. Jurowski is truly alive to the drama, with a febrile intensity to the finale. For sheer thrills, Järvi just about holds the palm, but make no mistake: Jurowski’s Swan Lake is up there with the very best.