TCHAIKOVSKY:  The Queen of Spades (arr. Thibaudeau)
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal/Jacques Lacombe, cond.
ANALEKTA 28816 (F) (DDD) TT:  79:50

TCHAIKOVSKY-BREINER:  The Seasons, Op. 37b.  Chanson triste, Op. 40 No. 2.  Mazurka, Op. 40 No. 4.  Chant sans paroles, Op. 40 No. 6.  Danse russe, Op. 40 No. 10. RÍverie interrompue.
Takako Nishizaki, violin; Queensland Symphony Orch/Peter Breiner, cond.
NAXOS 8.553510 (B) (DDD) TT:  65:25

TCHAIKOVSKY:  Swan Lake (complete ballet)
Russian State Symphony Orch/Dmitry Yablonsky, cond.
NAXOS 8.555873 (2 CDs) (B) (DDD) TT:  78:17 & 69:39

Two of these releases are quite unusual Tchaikovsky CDs, the first a ballet treatment of the opera The Queen of Spades, the second, arrangements for violin and orchestra of The Seasons and several other of piano pieces. For years I enjoyed an EMI recording dating from 1977 of Onegin, a ballet based on music from the opera Eugene Onegin arranged and orchestrated by Kurt-Heinz Stolze played by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra directed by John Lanchbery. This symphonic treatment of the opera was highly effective; the LP (EMI Eminence EMX 41 2080) contained about 53 minutes of music in a vivid performance, very well recorded. Analekta has now issued a ballet treatment of The Queen of Spades adapted and arranged by Gabriel Thibaudeau.  As explained in the CD notes, it was necessary to truncate the score by about two-thirds (as Stolze did for Onegin), and "to maintain the dramatic tension of Pushkin's text," Thibaudeau had to compose some new music. He also makes the rather odd statement that "following Tchaikovsky's initiative and adapting his themes, I composed the entire final scene with inspiration from—Prokofiev!"  The ballet had its premiere in Montreal in October 2001 shortly after which this recording was made. The CD has maximum playing time (79:50) but Tchaikovsky's music, as arranged and played here, sounds lackluster, perhaps because of the adaptation, but surely because of the performance. The Grand Canadian Ballet Orchestra of Montreal plays well enough, but their sound is anemic.  According to the personnel list there are only 40 players, 41 if you include the accordionist—surely not enough orchestral heft for Tchaikovsky.

The Naxos CD of Peter Breiner arrangements for violin and orchestra of The Seasons and five other piano pieces is a constant pleasure.  Breiner is a master of orchestral textures, Takako Nishizaki a superb violinist, the music well suited to this kind of treatment. She plays in eleven of the months; September ("The Hunt") is a vigorous, fanfare-laden piece which Breiner probably felt wasn't suited for solo violin/orchestra treatment.  Beautiful sonics also add to the attraction of this CD.

Naxos' twin-CD set of the complete Swan Lake has much to offer. The Russian State Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1936, is described in CD notes as "one of the leading ensembles in Russia," and they sound like it on this recording under the direction of Dmitry Yablonsky who since 1999 has been Principal Guest Conductor of the Moscow Philharmonic. Don't confuse the Russian State Symphony Orchestra with the Russian National Orchestra which was founded in 1990 by Mikhail Pletnev and has made a number of outstanding recordings for DGG. To add to the confusion, as recently reported in Andante, another orchestra has been formed in Russia with funding guaranteed from the Ministry of Culture, with Vladimir Spivakov as Music Director. This will be called the Russian National Philharmonic.  At any rate, the new Swan Lake with the RSSO is a dynamic performance beautifully recorded—with the exception of overly-prominent violin solos.  The final scene is quite impressive with its added tam-tams.

R.E.B. (March 2003)