TCHAIKOVSKY Sleeping Beauty • George Weldon, cond; Philharmonia O • CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 3932382 (2 CDs: 118:31)
The back liner in the jewel box has the following announcement: “For this classic recording, the first of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ to be made in stereo, the score was abridged to accommodate the ballet on two LPs.” Yes, at 118 minutes it is abridged. All but four of the ballet’s 30 numbers are represented (missing are Nos. 16, 18, 27, and 29. Number 18, Entr’acte, is a meditation for solo violin that was cut from the scoreRead more prior to the ballet’s premiere; numbers 27 and 29 (Pas Berrichon and Sarabande) are favorite targets to get the axe when abbreviating Sleeping Beauty. Many repeats are not taken and the scalpel has been judiciously wielded throughout the three acts, especially in the numbers named Scene. A complete Sleeping Beauty runs around 160 minutes (with Bonynge’s clocking 172), so this Classics for Pleasure release is missing nearly a third of the musical material. But, with 26 of the 30 numbers represented and many rendered complete, it is a satisfying performance and gives the feeling of being a complete performance rather than a two-disc set of highlights. Most of the principal dances, including the famous act I waltz (No. 6) and the “Rose Adagio” (No. 8) are uncut, as are many of the specialty dances. Most of the abridged numbers (ex: No. 17, “Panorama,” cut by 70 seconds) still play well and don’t sound abruptly truncated. The tempos tend to be lively, Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score sounds fresh and often exhilarating. It is, for all its shortcomings (pun intended), a lovely performance, and the stereo sound from 1956 is quite good. The ballet was recorded in 1956, but initially released in 1958 in both stereo and mono versions.
There is no dearth of the complete Sleeping Beauty available, either as music-only CDs or video DVDs; and one described as “audio DVD.” Highlights from the score are also included in a large selection of albums. Some of the complete versions, such as Bonynge’s and Previn’s, are packaged with their recordings of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker in specially priced boxed sets.
I confess that I have not heard all of the complete sets, and there are some complete sets in my collection that are no longer available. I use the term “complete” with qualifications. When transferring from three LPs to two CDs, EMI cut Nos. 27 and 29 in both the Previn and Lanchbery recordings, and further reduced Lanchbery’s by 10 minutes. Fortunately the Musical Heritage Society issued Lanchbery complete (that’s the good news, the bad news: they no longer have it in their catalog). In addition to Bonynge and Previn, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky with the BBC SO and Andrew Moreglia on Naxos are confidently recommended. Another very good, complete Sleeping Beauty, conducted by Mikhail Pletnev on DG, is only available in a boxed set with Ozawa’s Swan Lake and Nutcracker.
If you don’t mind the cuts, there is much to enjoy with this Weldon on CfP. It’s like the diet version of Sleeping Beauty, but it still leaves you satisfied.