|TCHAIKOVSKY: Suites from
Swan Lake, Sleeping
Beauty and Nutcracker ballets.
Philharmonia Orch/Efrem Kurtz, cond.
EMI DOUBLE FFORTE 74308 (M) (ADD) TT: 76:37 & 77:33
A nostalgic release coupling on 2 well-filled CDs three of the earliest stereo tapings of Tchaikovsky ballet music, all recorded in the warm acoustics of London's Kingsway Hall in 1958-59: 53 minutes of Swan Lake, 52 minutes of Sleeping Beauty and 47 minutes of Nutcracker. Efrem Kurtz is an appropriate conductor for these as he had a long association with ballet. Born into a musical family in 1900, he studied with Glazunov and Artur Nikisch. He made his impromptu debut in 1921 replacing Nikisch in a performance featuring dancing sensation Isadora Duncan, with whom he developed a close relationship -- as he also did with another legendary dancer, Anna Pavlova. Kurtz became an American citizen in 1944, conducted the Kansas City Symphony from 1943-1947, the Houston Orchestra from 1948-1954. He was associated with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic for one season in 1955 after which he chose to guest conduct throughout the world. Kurtz returned to Russia in 1966 conducting in Leningrad and Moscow, also opera in Italy with great success. He died in London June 27, 1995.
Although he conducted many orchestras throughout the world, Kurtz recorded almost exclusively with just one, Britain's Philharmonia. In 1993 EMI issued a 2-CD set of Russian music in their Artist Profile series containing some of the conductor's finest recordings, featuring the first symphonies of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, as well as other works of Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov, Khachaturian, Glinka and Kabalevsky (EMI 67729), a set well worth searching for in cut-out bins. Those recordings were made about the same time as the newly reissued Tchaikovsky ballets. Swan Lake has the luxury of Yehudi Menuhin playing the important violin solos. At that time, fortunately, he was not plagued with technical problems that developed later. Identified as "Appendix II" we have "Danse russe" with its big violin solo although, for whatever reason, there is no indication this solo is played by Menuhin. Unfortunately the excerpts from Swan Lake do not include the final scene; strange this is not included.
From a sound perspective, this is bold, early stereophonic recording with ideal presence and spread with a very noticeable tape background sound, not so much as to be disturbing. Sleeping Beauty, although recorded a year after the other two, is not quite as brilliant as the others. Surprisingly in the brief "Diamond Fairy" excerpt the triangle is almost inaudible. This set is recommended for its many virtues, and as a memento of the early days of stereo recording. It's listed above as mid- price when actually it falls somewhere between budget and mid-price, i.e. two CDs for the cost of one full-priced disk.