Magazine article Gramophone

Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake: Vladimir Jurowski Tells Sarah Kirkup Why We Should Honour the Composer's Original Intentions

Magazine article Gramophone

Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake: Vladimir Jurowski Tells Sarah Kirkup Why We Should Honour the Composer's Original Intentions

Article excerpt

Vladimir Jurowski has just stepped off a plane and is, by his own admission, 'quite tired'. But as we ensconce ourselves in an office at the Royal Opera House and start immersing ourselves in the multiples scores of Swan Lake that have been provided for us, he becomes increasingly animated. This music means a great deal to the Russian conductor: he recalls, as a child, seeing his father Mikhail conducting Burmeister's 1953 version at the Stanislavsky Theatre (he also remembers growing up listening to the Soviet recordings by Rozhdestvensky and Svetlanov). But in the late '80s, Jurowski's view of the ballet changed forever when he saw it at Berlin's Komische Oper in a re-choreographed version by Tom Schilling that revisited the original 1877 score. 'Since then, I've been corrupted by the idea that this is the only way to perform Swan Lake,' Jurowski says. Thus, it is to this original score that he has returned for his new Pentatone recording with the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia 'Evgeny Svetlanov'.

We know from one of Tchaikovsky's letters that by August 1875 he had started working on the music, while a note in the autograph score reveals that he completed it in April 1876. And we know that the ballet was premiered in Moscow on February 20, 1877, with choreography by Julius Reisinger. Even today, the premiere is recalled as being 'disastrous', although in fact the ballet ran for 41 performances across three productions in six years (and Tchaikovsky fared better than Reisinger, for whom Swan Lake was the final nail in the Czech choreographer's coffin). But it was the St Petersburg revival of 1895 (completed after Tchaikovsky's death), with choreography by Petipa and Ivanov, that prevailed. It didn't seem to matter that, to reflect a new libretto by Modeste Tchaikovsky, the score had been substantially revised (a process instigated by Petipa and implemented by his music director, the composer Riccardo Drigo): repeats were jettisoned; three piano pieces from his Op 72, orchestrated by Drigo, were added; and whole numbers were cut or repositioned. 'Chopping up the order is nonsense,' says Jurowski. 'The original score reveals this symphonic form of development where, through a sequence of keys, everything is connected. The 1895 version destroyed that.'

In front of us, we have the 1877 and 1895 versions (edited by Jurgenson) and the Simpson-edited Kalmus version adapted for Liam Scarlett's recent Royal Ballet production. There's also a copy of the autograph score bearing Tchaikovsky's handwritten notes (or 'script'--Jurowski's term) in French describing the action. But Jurowski isn't happy. Where's the Russian Dance?

This virtuoso piece for violin and orchestra was composed by Tchaikovsky at the behest of Reisinger, after the score had already been completed. The composer promptly obliged, and it was performed by Pelagia Karpakova (who danced Odette) at the premiere. 'Our intention was to record the 1877 version but with the addition of this number,' says Jurowski. 'If you look here'--he finds the Index pages to both the 1877 and 1895 scores--'you'll see an asterisk with a page number for a supplementary number.' Taking each score in turn, we locate the page in question--but the Russian Dance isn't there. As for the Kalmus version, there's no mention of a supplementary number at all. Jurowski eventually tracks down online an equivalent version to the edition he used (the Soviet 1977 Muzyka edition, in consultation with the original Jurgenson) and discovers what he's looking for. 'Here it is!' he exclaims. 'And it's interpolated where it should be--in Act 3, after the Danse hongroise Czardas and before the Danse espagnole.'

That Jurowski should want to follow a composer's intentions is understandable. But to state, as he does in the CD booklet-note, that 'it's almost impossible to appreciate the music of the original unless you perform it in a concert where there's no need to adapt to the dance' is, to any balletomane, alarming. …

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