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Kristjan Järvi’s Ugly Sleeping Beauty

Victor Carr Jr

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Admittedly, the complete version of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet, despite its glorious beauty, is a tough sell beyond aficionados. Tchaikovsky himself never imagined anyone would be listening to the entire work outside of the ballet theater, hence he crafted the five-movement suite, thanks to which Sleeping Beauty owes its popularity. Tchaikovsky had a high opinion of this work–“The Sleeping Beauty may be the best of all my compositions…”–a feeling he uncharacteristically maintained even after its premiere. So he’d be horrified by the rank butchering to which Kristjan Järvi has subjected it. In addition to his pernicious snipping of sections within even the smallest dances (when he isn’t removing them entirely), Järvi’s “A Dramatic Symphony” arrangement bizarrely leaves out most of the score’s dramatic sequences, making this Sleeping Beauty feel more like an extended Nutcracker Suite.

Worse, Järvi has no appreciation for the work’s thematic plan. After the introduction, where Tchaikovsky first presents the Carabosse and Lilac Fairy themes, we rarely hear them again, despite their musical and dramatic importance at critical points throughout the ballet. Indeed, minimizing these themes, two of Tchaikovsky’s most brilliant and beautiful creations, fundamentally diminishes the experience of Sleeping Beauty.

And it’s not just connoisseurs of the complete ballet that will feel slighted; Järvi also robs fans of the popular suite by chopping up the familiar Rose Adagio. (Really, Dude? The freaking Rose Adagio?) But excising isn’t Järvi’s only sin. For some demented reason he doubles the length of the ballet’s minor-key Apotheosis (already a real downer after all the preceding merriment) by repeating it seemingly ad nauseam.

In the end, all Järvi has accomplished is to deeply frustrate those who know this music, and severely short-change newcomers. Even his refreshingly quick tempos, and the top-shelf playing by the Baltic Sea Philharmonic won’t make up for the crime committed here. Get this only if you hate yourself.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Gergiev (Philips); Slatkin (RCA), Suite only: Rostropovich (DG)

    Baltic Sea Philharmonic, Kristjan Järvi

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