The Tchaikovsky ballet score recordings conducted for Decca and Philips by the Ukrainian-born Anatole Fistoulari (1907-1995) are prized ‘among the finest ever made’ (Gramophone). As a companion issue to his first, abridged versions of Swan Lake (4825225) and Sleeping Beauty (4827223), this newly remastered set offers another trio of complete LP albums, all stereo recordings from the early 1960s: highlights from Swan Lake made in Amsterdam in 1961, and LSO recordings from 1962 of highlights from Sleeping Beauty, the familiar suite from The Nutcracker and the evergreen Serenade for Strings.
It is the sense of being present at a live performance that critics prized in Fistoulari’s ballet recordings. As an experienced conductor in the pit, who (perhaps apocryphally) led his first opera performance at the age of 12, he understood how to make a score glisten with greasepaint in the studio.
The legendary 1961 Swan Lake was one of the Concertgebouw’s first stereo recordings, and all the solos are brilliantly played by leaders of the Concertgebouw. Nearly 50 years after its release, the climactic moments of the score still continue to overwhelm, not least thanks to the Decca engineering.
The other two albums issued here were originally made by Philips, though the Serenade was first released on its Mercury sub-label, and the Suite from The Nutcracker was not issued at all until 1967, five years after being recorded. The delay is unaccountable: Fistoulari’s light hand at the tiller is unmistakable as the LSO glide through the dances of the second act. An array of soloistic musicians filled the front desks of the orchestra during the early 60s, and the wind and string solos are all played with finesse here and in the excerpts from Sleeping Beauty.
PIOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)
1–13 Swan Lake, Op. 20 (Highlights)
14–17 Serenade for Strings in C major, Op. 48*
1–8 The Nutcracker: Suite, Op. 71a°
9–23 Sleeping Beauty (Highlights)
Concertgebouworkest (Swan Lake)
London Symphony Orchestra (Serenade, Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty)
*FIRST CD RELEASE ON DECCA
° FIRST INTERNATIONAL CD RELEASE ON DECCA
Recording Producers: Christopher Raeburn, Ray Minshull (Swan Lake); Vittorio Negri (Serenade, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty)
Balance Engineers: Alan Abel, Kenneth Wilkinson (Swan Lake); Vittorio Negri (Serenade, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty)
Recording Locations: Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 22–23 February 1961 (Swan Lake); Wembley Town Hall, London, UK, 10–13 January 1962 (Sleeping Beauty), 13–14 November 1962 (The Nutcracker, Serenade)
Remastering Engineer: Chris Bernauer
Original Releases: Decca LXT 5648 / SXL 2285 (Swan Lake: October 1961); 835143AY (Sleeping Beauty: May 1963); SDAL503 / D88126-27Y (The Nutcracker: September 1967); 836251VZ (Serenade: 1963; not released in the US or UK until February 1964 on Mercury Wing MGW14040 / SRW18040)
‘[A] bright, exceptionally clean-lined reading. Though he has had wide experience as a ballet conductor, Fistoulari prefers here to treat the music in concert fashion. The recorded sound is very good, with considerable spaciousness imparted by stereo.’ High Fidelity, September 1961 (Swan Lake)
‘I doubt if any other disc of Swan Lake bits and pieces has such wonderful quality.’ Gramophone, October 1961 (Swan Lake)
‘Fistoulari is a marvellous Tchaikovsky ballet conductor.’ Gramophone, December 1976
‘Fistoulari is one of the major ballet conductors of our time, and his second Sleeping Beauty recording contains much that is enjoyable.’ Fanfare, May 1981 (Sleeping Beauty)