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Khachaturian: Spartacus / Klinichev, Bolshoi Ballet [Blu-ray]

Khachaturian / Acosta / Bolshoi Ballet / Klinichev
Release Date: 11/18/2008 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 001217059  
Composer:  Aram Khachaturian
Conductor:  Pavel Klinichev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Colonne Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

*** This Blu-ray Disc is only playable on Blu-ray Disc players and not compatible with standard DVD or HD DVD players. ***


KHACHATURIAN Spartacus & Pavel Klinichev, cond; Carlos Acosta ( Spartacus ); Nina Kaptsova ( Phrygia ); Alexander Volchkov ( Crassus Read more class="ARIAL12">); Maria Allash ( Aegina ); Bolshoi Ballet; O Colonne DECCA 074 3304 (Blu-ray Disc: 176:00)

& Interviews with Acosta, choreographer Grigorovich, et alia; rehearsal clips

Aram Khachaturian’s Spartacus is probably unique in the world of ballet, not only because of its sheer size (after all, there is Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty , and Khachaturian also wrote Gayne ), but because of the immense demands on the lead dancer and the political implications of the story. At the time of its premiere in 1954, the evil Romans were equated with Tsarist Russia and the noble slaves were perceived to be Bolsheviks. Spartacus has been performed widely outside of Russia since then, so it is really no longer particularly regarded as a propaganda piece. This 1968 Yuri Grigorivich production, created for the Bolshoi Ballet, is generally considered to be the definitive version of Spartacus . Khachaturian’s score has been termed banal and bombastic Hollywood claptrap by some critics, but its instantly accessible melodies (including the famous love theme for Spartacus and Phrygia), flashy orchestration, and direct emotional appeal have insured its popularity and generated multiple recordings of various excerpts in modern stereo sound. Any well-engineered recording of music from Spartacus will be a sonic spectacular. It is basically good cinematic music that differs from Hollywood scores only to the extent that it successfully maintains Khachaturian’s thoroughly personal sound that is the sonic signature of the ballet.

Spartacus has been fortunate throughout its history to have excellent interpreters of the title role, including Vladimir Vasiliev, Mikhail Lavrovsky, and Irek Mukhamedov. Carlos Acosta (who was coached by Lavrovsky for these performances) now joins that illustrious group. Aside from his physicality and sheer athleticism, Acosta portrays Spartacus as a passionate and angry man who is willing to do anything to gain his freedom. His charismatic dancing and persona anchor this production, but Spartacus has three other major roles. Nina Kaptsova (Phrygia) is petite, elegant, and gently expressive in her dancing and facial expressions. Maria Allash as the amoral Aegina appropriately contrasts with the virtuous Phrygia. Alexander Volchkov dances gracefully enough, but he comes off as a petulant pretty boy who fails to project the cruel brutality of Crassus. The Orchestre Colonne isn’t quite equipped to handle Khachaturian’s demands, while Pavel Klinichev’s interpretation is just a little too subdued, and his tempos drag at times. You just can’t underplay this music, especially the barbaric climaxes, or it is in danger of sinking into bathos. The Bolshoi Corps de Ballet contributes almost as much as the stars to the success of this spectacular production.

The camerawork is generally good in that the emphasis is on long shots that showcase the spectacle of the Roman legions, gladiators, courtesans, and battles. There are also some well-chosen close-ups of the soloists. Blu-ray augments the visual splendor of the production. Audio formats are PCM stereo and DTS 5.1 surround that is applied conservatively to achieve an increased sense of depth. A mildly interesting 43-minute bonus features clips of rehearsals (primarily of Acosta and Kaptsova) and comments from Acosta, Kaptsova, Volchkov, and Allash, plus Grigorivich, Bolshoi artistic director Alexei Ratmansky, and the Paris Opéra Ballet’s Brigitte Lefèvre. There is also an extensive but sometimes redundant interview with Acosta. There are at least four other DVDs of the Grigorovich Bolshoi Spartacus , and all have fine performances by the male lead. This newest version of a production that defines what the Bolshoi does best is the latest in their 40-year tradition with Spartacus. Acosta is electrifying here, but Blu-ray technology makes this without question the Spartacus of choice.

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
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Works on This Recording

Spartacus by Aram Khachaturian
Conductor:  Pavel Klinichev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Colonne Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1954/1968; USSR 

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