An essential purchase for any fans of the ballet, this absolutely wonderful album deserves a home on your shelves. Not only does Reference Recordings deliver another stunning sonic product, but the playing is outstanding and makes something very special out of this music. Ballet recordings are usually best complete in my mind because larger suites inevitably lose the story or end up in odd arrangements. This isn't always the case – Eugene Ormandy recorded expanded suites for all three of the Tchaikovsky ballets – but it takes a very fine maestro to give the music its due.
Martin West is obviously one such conductor, someone who believes in this music and treats it with the necessary respect. I haven't heard such fine conducting in this kind of music since Dorati, and except for his Nutcracker in Amsterdam, the late conductor never had this kind of orchestral playing at his disposal. West really does a wonderful job bring both scores to life, paying attention to all kinds of detail and keeping things moving in the spirit of dance. And there simply isn't a better orchestra for this, the San Francisco musicians play the pants off the music, with each section showing off to marvelous effect.
Check out Coppélia, whose famous numbers often sound pretty droopy. Sure, it's beautiful music, but that's no reason to let it sag. West and his players give the music uncommon strength and clarity, not to mention a welcome alacrity. Sylvia features some delicious brass playing in its more well-known sections, and though I've heard both suites before, I've never heard them quite so convincingly. It's all capped off by simply staggering sound that gives this dance music room to breathe and make the impact it needs to. Taken as a whole, I recommend it as highly as I possibly can.
Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman