This recording of Tchaikovsky’s incidental music for Alexander Ostrovsky’s The Snow Maiden is a pure delight. Written in 1873, after the composer’s first two versions of the Romeo and Juliet fantasy overture (1869-70) and just before his first ballet, Swan Lake (1875-77), the work falls into a period when Tchaikovsky often found recourse to love stories that end badly. In Ostrovsky’s tale the immortal child of Spring and Ded Moroz – a sort of Russian Santa Claus – covets the companionship of mortals but is unable to know love. After her mother takes pity and grants her the power to love, growing fond of a shepherd, the emotion warms not only her heart but her entire being, to the point at which she melts.
Estonian mezzo-soprano Annely Peebo sings the ill-fated maiden, her mellifluous tone and warm vibrato a pleasure to listen to – try any of Lehl’s Songs; they’re all superb (the principal clarinettist here and in the first two Entr’Actes deserves special mention for sympathetic phrasings and solo work). As her shepherd, Vsevolod Grinov’s tenor is powerful and clarion with a nice weight at the bottom and a ringing top that comes across well in Brusilla’s Song.
Kristjan Järvi conducts the exceptional MDR Sinfonieorchester and Chorus – listen to their acute responsiveness in Dance of the Tumblers; sforzandi bursting, prancing percussion and finessed flourishes – a precursor to the great ballet scores to come. An Australian performance would would not go amiss.