In spite of what the Decca sticker on the box claims this is not a new studio recording of Tchaikovsky's "complete" ballet, since what's featured here is the Mariinsky Theatre version with the cuts, rearrangements of numbers, and interpolations with other Tchaikovsky music orchestrated by Riccardo Drigo for the 1895 staging of the ballet. Be that as it may, I fail to see why we should have the sound recording if the full thing with the movie is also available on DVD, especially because the chosen tempi and approach can hardly be justified without the images. (And, incidentally, the double CD is more expensive than the DVD.)
Valery Gergiev is not a ballet conductor. Moreover, this was among his first attempts at "Swan Lake" and I can't help but thinking he would have been much better off with a real studio recording of the complete score (like he did with greater success for "The Sleeping Beauty" and "The Nutcracker"), instead of this live performance which, taken out of its context, sounds even more bloodless and inert as it does on the DVD. As usual he brings out a lot of the orchestral details and colour of this wonderful music, helped by a stunningly dynamic recording from the Decca engineers, but the drama and theatricality is curiously missing. Surprisingly, the big orchestral numbers like the ouverture, the introduction and the finales of the various acts suffer most from Gergiev's underpowered conducting. Brass, percussion and timpani should ideally have been balanced more forwardly.
When listening through the complete recording one also realizes it falls apart in elegantly crafted moments, with some lovely solo's from the musicians of the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, but a sense of structure which holds it all together is absent. The famous White Swan pas de deux (pas d'action) reflects in this respect the whole recording: there is some exquisite playing by the solo violin, but the whole piece drags because of the tempo and doesn't stand repeated listening.
This is far from being the definitive recording of "Swan Lake". It doesn't even come close - for that rather look in the direction of Evgeny Svetlanov, Antal Dorati, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Ernest Ansermet, or even Pierre Monteux and the hard to find Anatole Fistoulari in abridged versions. If you really need to have the Mariinsky Theatre version of the ballet on CD, look for Viktor Fedotov and the Mariinsky Orchestra.