There was a strong tradition in 19th-century Europe for composers to make or authorize piano transcriptions of their orchestral works. Witness, for instance, the more than fifteen recent Naxos CDs (e.g. Brahms: Four Hand Piano Music, Vol. 1) filled with piano four-hand arrangements of almost all of Brahms's orchestral output. Although Tchaikovsky's ballets -- Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker -- eventually became enormously popular, the composer was very worried that the music would 'sink into oblivion', and so he authorized various musicians in his circle to make the transcriptions on this disc. This surely gave broader accessibility to these beautiful scores and as late as the 1940s I, as a piano student, played the Nutcracker arrangement with my teacher, all before I had ever heard the orchestral originals. 'The Sleeping Beauty', with its five movements, was initially transcribed by the eighteen-year-old Rachmaninov -- this was in the early 1890s -- but the composer was not entirely satisfied with Rachmaninov's work, so he and his friend (and Rachmaninov's teacher) Alexander Ziloti turned their hands to revisions in the transcription. Once one becomes used to the difference in timbre -- piano rather than full orchestra -- the transcription is delightful. I particularly liked the sweep of the concluding Valse. The Aurora Duo play in rather strict metronomic time which one supposes might be appropriate for ballet music when it is being danced onstage, but for this recording I could have done with a little more personality. Also, the texture of the Sleeping Beauty transcription seems a little thick to me at times. The members of the Aurora Duo, who met in piano classes at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, are Julia Severus and Alina Luschtschizkaja who somewhat unusually change positions at the piano between Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, and who each play primo in four of the movements of The Nutcracker. (The recording was made in a studio in Berlin and that probably explains why Luschtschizkaja's name is transliterated in the German style; in English it would more likely be written 'Lushchitskaya'.)
More successful are the 'Swan Lake' and 'Nutcracker' transcriptions as well as the performances recorded here. Tchaikovsky's friend Edouard Langer arranged Swan Lake and Stepan Esipoff did The Nutcracker. Both these suites require the utmost in delicacy and the Aurora Duo provide it beautifully. I loved their rendition of the Dance of the Little Swans, and also all the characteristic dances in Nutcracker. Waltz of the Flowers is a triumph that ends the CD.
Sound is all one could expect.