Riccardo Muti / Philadelphia Orchestra

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake & Sleeping Beauty suites

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Remember Louis Malle's movie Pretty Baby, the French art movie set in New Orleans that climaxes with the ritual deflowering of a 12-year-old Brooke Shields? Remember how the movie made viewers feel aesthetically gratified and, at the same time, sick to their stomachs? That's approximately the feeling the listeners get from these 1984 recordings by Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra of highlights from Tchaikovsky's ballets Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, except that the listener is hardly aesthetically gratified. Bad enough is the Philadelphia Orchestra. The winds are sultry, the strings are seductive, the brass are insistent, the ensemble is licentious, and the sonorities are shameless. Worse yet is Muti's conducting. His rhythms are vulgar, his balances are banal, his interpretations are tasteless, and his tempos are just this side of bump and grind. But, worst of all, Muti and the Philadelphia together do things to Tchaikovsky's ballets that would find no home outside of a particularly unsavory burlesque show. The tenderly delicate blossoms of Tchaikovsky's fairy tale ballets cannot survive such brutal handling. EMI's early digital sound is too cold, close, and hard.

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