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Dull and bloodless Beauty,
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.