TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake Ballet
Minneapolis Symphony Orch/Antal Dorati, cond.
Mercury Living Presence 462 950 (2 CDs) (M) (ADD) TT: 73:36 & 58:09
Now that Mercury has reissued on CD most of their stereophonic recordings in their "Living Presence" series, they are getting around to their pre-stereo releases. A major release is this 2-CD set of Antal Dorati's pioneering recording of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake Ballet, recorded December 14/15 back in the days when the Minnesota Orchestra was the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. The original LP issue was very special, a 3-LP set in an album with a luxurious blue/silver cover (in competition with RCA's deluxe Soria Series of the time), and this cover has been replicated (but not in cloth) for the CD issue. According to the liner notes, this was the first recording of the complete score, although since that time there have been many others.

The reissue is a mixed blessing. Dorati's interpretation was from his best days, dynamic and propelling, but the Minneapolis orchestra, though they play well, had a rather thin sound, particularly in the strings, which was accentuated by the dry acoustics of Northrop Auditorium and the single Telefunken U47 microphone pickup. Tchaikovsky's score must have a big, lush orchestral sound, and you won't find it here. Dorati also recorded Tchaikovsky's two other ballets  (Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty) for Mercury; Sleeping Beauty was more successful sonically and I look forward to its eventual CD appearance. But for both Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty Dorati's Philips recordings with the Concertgebouw surely are the ones to have, both available at budget price; unfortunately Dorati never got around to recording Swan Lake for Philips with the Dutch orchestra. Other choice recordings of the complete Swan Lake include Mark Ermler with the Royal Opera House Orchestra on Conifer, Evgeny Svetlanov and the Russian State Symphony Orchestra on Melodiya, and Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony on Sony Classical. Only those with a love for the nostalgic/historic will wish to investigate the new Mercury reissue.

R.E.B. (NOV. 1999)