My 13 year old daughter loves the music of Tchaikovsky and has rather a fondness for Rimsky-Korsakov too, so when she spotted this on Amazon late last year, although she already owns the full score of The Nutcracker, for its narration, this disc found its way straight onto her Christmas list; a perfect blend for her of two amongst the composers she most admires (none will ever outdo Beethoven for her!); one suite from a ballet (Tchaikovsky) and the other from an opera (Rimsky-Korsakov). The story of The Nutcracker is one which has been familiar to my daughter for a long time; Christmas Eve however not so. Of the two, she found Christmas Eve took a lot more of her concentration to follow. In truth, I feel that this disc has been rather a marvel and more than a little successful in presenting a fairly brief synopsis as of the two stories on this disc it is by far the more complicated!
The two act ballet of Tchaikovsky, whilst only given as brief excerpts, is sufficient in which to tell the story of Clara and her Nutcracker and the adventures they undertake on Christmas Eve night. For this reason it should be more than able to hold a young child's attention and many of the selected pieces of the score may very well already be familiar to them. The Orchestration provided by the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra under the conductor Michael Halasz is decent and therefore perfectly enjoyable.
Christmas Eve is a four act opera with the music and libretto of Rimsky-Korsakov, presented on this disc as a 'condensed' version as with Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. As I have already suggested, this story is by far the more complicated of the two (younger children may take a little while to fully get to grips with it) and as it begins one could be forgiven for bringing Halloween to mind at first with its story of The Devil and Witches! For my daughter and me this is another rather magical score of Rimsky-Korsakov and here it has been delivered well by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Igor Golovshin.
The narration for both stories has been provided by Prunella Scales and she is easy enough to listen to; although (perhaps) she doesn't always quite manage to stir the excitement some narrators achieve on discs of this nature. I therefore understand completely the reviewer who has described Ms Scales as being 'cool and restrained' and I feel this to be a perfectly fair assessment.
All in all though this is a pleasing disc that should be enjoyed by both young and old alike and is a superb introduction to classical music for those less familiar with it. My daughter particularly loves it for having the less familiar Rimsky-Korsakov score.
The star rating is my daughter's and it is for the Rimsky-Korsakov score that she wished to award it the full five stars.