Valery Gergiev's performance of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake with the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre is one of the most powerful available, and this highlights album presents a little more than two-thirds of the full ballet; it is perhaps one of the very best recordings, notwithstanding one idiosyncrasy that must be addressed directly. Although Gergiev's periodic humming, muttering, and heavy breathing are quite detectable and may be distracting (the likelihood of that increases as the volume is raised), it is perhaps tolerable, especially in light of the excellence of the interpretation, the sheer excitement of the playing, and the responsiveness of the recording that, in addition to picking up the conductor's vocalizations, puts the listener right in the orchestra pit. Everything musical about this 2007 Decca release is compelling, not only because Gergiev delivers the Mariinsky performing a version of the ballet with bold strokes of color, thrillingly brisk tempos, and quite a few original expressive touches, but also because the orchestra is in top form throughout, playing without a single lapse of energy, sensitivity, or brilliance. Listeners will note with pleasure the vibrant string tone, particularly in the contrabasses, which is often encountered in Gergiev's other recordings, and the sharp details in the woodwinds and brass, which are always gratifying to hear since they are often over-blended in older performances. This is a strong and convincing performance, which, along with its DVD release, will be discussed by balletomanes for years, so this highlights album is recommended for anyone who still needs convincing.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|The Swan Lake, ballet, Op. 20|