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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars On unfamiliar ground, 16 Nov. 2010
This review is from: Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (Audio CD)
It's amusing to read from a conductor in a foreword to his newest recording, moreover meant to feature as plat de résistance of his 30 years with EMI campaign, that he previously hasn't been much of a fan of the composer he is playing. Of course, it has never been a secret that Simon Rattle isn't a Tchaikovskian and anyone who remembers the budding maestro accompanying Russian pianist Emil Gilels in Tchaikovsky's 1st piano concerto in the early Birmingham days, knows this went hand in hand with an evident lack of affinity with the composer's world. And although the light often appears with age and Rattle readily admits he always has had a soft spot for the ballets, a complete recording of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" with the Berlin Philharmonic is still something of a surprise.

I wish, though, it would have been an event as well. Rattle's "Nutcracker" was recorded in late December 2009, with the 2nd Act spliced from the Silvesterkonzert to a studio recording. What immediately struck me are the lack of imagination and atmosphere of Rattle's approach. Surely, he gives us beautifully played snapshots, spotlighting Tchaikovsky's ever inventive orchestration as well as honoring the composer's dynamic markings, but he doesn't share much of a story and the few dramatic snippets he finds are sadly missing in evocative power. Rattle seems to be discovering the score and is mesmerized by the wealth of its melodies, but more than that as yet he isn't able to give. While Rattle rightfully emphasizes in his foreword the revolutionary quality of the score, highly influential on Stravinsky's ballets, his reading remains too relaxed and uneventful to convince. Don't try looking for the magic of a Christmas night here. The 1st scene is already played so uninvitingly off-hand that all you want to do is leave right away and look for a more promising party. Characteristically, the Berlin Philharmonic luxuriously wallows in its own virtuosity, yet it all sounds too much of a slick beauty contest without body and even less soul. Although expansively recorded the more weightier moments in the music lack punch as if Rattle always seems to hold back in the climaxes. After a rather unexciting battle, "In The Pine Forest" is curiously hesitant and disregards the sense of discovery and magic of the scene. The Pas de deux in Act 2 never really blooms.

The EMI recording lacks detail and clarity, which spoils much of the fun in this brilliant score. Strings and woodwinds are forwardly balanced, and during the orchestral climaxes in Act 1 the Berlin machinery tends to sound congested.

Other conductors have given us far more satisfying readings: Ernest Ansermet finding character in every note; Antal Dorati, especially his recording with the Concertgebouw Amsterdam; Semyon Bychkov with a Berlin Philharmonic sounding far more inspired in 1986; Valery Gergiev with the Mariinsky Orchestra in one of his very best moments on disc. For a selection of excerpts Yevgeni Mravinsky with the Leningrad Philharmonic remains required listening.

(This recording is also released in a deluxe format, offered as a beautifully illustrated miniature hardcover book of some 60 pages, including next to Rattle's foreword, an essay on the history of the ballet (by John Warrack), a synopsis, and notes on the Berlin Philharmonic and the conductor.)
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Dec 2010 09:04:50 GMT
Mr. R. Waud says:
This review is absolutely spot-on as I have exactly the same feelings about this recording. At least the 2 discs weren't too expensive!

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Dec 2010 10:06:28 GMT
Thank you for the feedback.

Posted on 20 Jan 2013 15:45:11 GMT
Hello and thank you for taking time for making these comments which I found very interesting. As you had set out some alternative suggestions of the Nutcracker recordings I set out to find some recordings by Ansermet but met with disappointment as there were a number of his recordings of Nutcracker which met with differing comments from other conoisseurs of the music world. I was wondering if you had any particular recordings by Ansermet in mind and whether you would be willing to share those with the Amazon comments readers.
I hope you can help.
Patrick Brosnan

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Apr 2015 16:10:12 BDT
I think Ansermet only made one studio recording of "Nutcracker". It's available on Australian Eloquence here:

The Nutcracker / Suite No 3 / Suite No 4

Much more theatrical than Rattle, although of course made over 50 years ago, but you won't need to make much allowance for the age of the recording. Decca recordings were pretty good for that time.

Also, Rozhdestvensky's Melodiya version is also born of years of theatre conducting experience, and has a lovely Russian tang to it.
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