Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty ballet has always lurked in the shadow of his other two great ballets, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. I daresay, with the exception of the big first-act waltz, most people would be hard pressed to identify much of it without prompting. But in the past couple of decades, the work has received several good recordings (including a budget-priced one from Naxos) to accompany such old favorites as those from Previn (EMI), Dorati (Philips), and Rozhdestvensky (BBC). Since Mikhail Pletnev and his Russian National Orchestra provided us with such a splendid Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony a few years before this 2000 release, I had high expectations for his Sleeping Beauty. I wasn't terribly disappointed.
The performance sounds as polished as one could hope for: refined, subtle, and especially expansive in the slower movements. It is a serious interpretation, generally taking the slow parts cautiously and slow paced and the faster sections a tad faster than most other conductors. Compared to my reference, Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra, Pletnev seems almost grave at times, yet he also takes some tempos at a clip that would challenge the most nimble of dancers. Previn, on the other hand, has the lighter, more lyrical, more dance-like touch.
DG's digital sound, recorded in 1997, is somewhat heavier and smoother than EMI's 1974 analogue sound for Previn, and the DG sonics are not quite as detailed through the midrange. Nor is there as much depth to DG's orchestral field or as much ambiance as from the older EMI. Indeed, the DG sounds a little flat and dry by comparison. However, I did like DG's slightly more resonant string tone than EMI's. The sound of neither recording is exactly state-of-the-art, but neither recording offers any real displeasure.
Of minor note: The Pletnev recording offers a total of sixty-three tracking points, the Previn seventy-seven. Both are plenty. Overall, I'd say the Previn rendering is a more balletic approach; the Pletnev is more of a concert performance. Although they're both satisfying, if I had to pick just one, it would still be the Previn.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: