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Customer Review

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull and bloodless Beauty, 1 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty Op.66 (Audio CD)
Mikhail Pletnev may rightfully be considered one of the keyboard giants of our time. However, attempting a career as a conductor, his recordings with his Russian National Orchestra have proven highly controversial. According to some, Pletnev's approach is a thought-through attempt to give the Russian late romantics a more classical face by avoiding all excesses in sound and delivery that we came to associate with this music through the recordings of among others Mravinsky and Svetlanov. To others, his discs represent nothing but cold, clinical sounding and clumsily-crafted westernized surrogates, stripping the Russian scores of all their idiomatic passion and soul.

Listening to Pletnev's complete recording of Tchaikovsky's magisterial second ballet "The Sleeping Beauty", I tend to agree with the latter. If there is anything which distinguishes this release it must be the conductor's unemotional, pokerfaced approach. In Pletnev's "Beauty" there is hardly any place for theatricality and drama. Everything is nice, polished, clean, but perfectly bloodless and boring. Pletnev's stab at individuality consists mainly in unbalancing the score by introducing here and there some unexpected yet awkward tempi and tempo changes. In doing so he fails most of the dances, which rank here among the most unimaginative ever put to disc (nr. 12 of Act II; nr. 23, 25, 28 of Act III), while the lapses of tension in the dramatic passages are far too frequent to bear repeated listening (Final of the Prologue; Act II). We know this recording is not meant to accompany dancers on a stage, but other conductors have proven that Tchaikovsky's pure dance music remains fascinating in every bar.

The orchestral playing is generally commendable, with fair contributions from solo violin and cello (Why are none of the soloists of the orchestra credited?) The 4-D recording from 1997 provides crisp and vivid, if not especially dynamic sound. Tutti sound rather flat, but fit perfectly in Pletnev's deadpan approach. The strings are balanced forward and with the 1st and 2nd violins divided left and right, it often seems as if the brass section is on leave. I also never thought of the Apotheose as a piano concerto. All in all, a disappointing issue and no competition for Antal Dorati and Evgeni Svetlanov.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Jul 2015 22:49:53 BDT
Last edited by the author on 2 Jul 2015 22:56:46 BDT
A contributor on the American website (www.amazon.com) says that he finds Pletnev's version intolerable because of humming (presumably by the conductor) and cites the finale of the Prologue (No. 4 in the ballet; track 12 on CD 1) as one of the worst passages. Having checked this out, I too found the humming on the right channel irritating when listening on headphones, though less distracting through speakers. Once you notice it, it's difficult to ignore it, and it becomes as much of a nuisance as sitting next to someone in the audience who is singing along with the music without realising what they are doing. Potential buyers ought to be aware of the problem.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jul 2015 16:10:29 BDT
It has always been a source of fascination to me as to why conductors are allowed to get away with this sort of thing which the rank and file players would most definitely not be allowed to. Ditto those pianists who sometimes hum along. Is it because their name is "above the title" so to speak so they think they can get away with it or do they reckon that the producers will be afraid to say anything lest a re-recording is deemed necessary hence pushing up the cost of the project to a level unacceptable to the finance director?

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jul 2015 01:51:14 BDT
Last edited by the author on 23 Jul 2015 01:51:36 BDT
The worst I've come across so far is in the last of Sir Colin Davis's three Sibelius cycles (Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1-7: Kullervo [LSO/Colin Davis]). The vocal contribution from Sir Colin is a major distraction for the listener and I cannot understand why it is necessary for him to emit such inarticulate noises.
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