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Customer Review

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Giddy Brilliance, 13 Dec. 2011
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This review is from: Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (Audio CD)
Deaf to years of theatrical compromise, Rattle comes to the score unsullied. And like a first-class picture restoration, there's renewed giddy brilliance to its colours and textures. It comes up against tough competition with Gergiev's 1998 recording on Philips. Gergiev's orchestra has all the expected verve, but it lacks the emotional chops of the Berlin Phil. And while the Russians' performance is squeezed on to one disc, EMI gives Rattle the luxury of two; it allows the ballet to breathe.

The added space, however, doesn't make for any unwanted sluggishness. Right from Clara's poignant first meeting with the Nutcracker to the vodka-shot clout of the Russian Dance, there's real tang to these melodious treats. And you hear danger too, with brusque woodwind accents during the Mouse King battle and snarling trombones under the snowflakes. Throughout, Rattle maintains that balance between sweet and sour. And the whole performance feels distinctly more fleet of foot than Andre Previn's rather bulky rendition with the LSO (recently re-released on EMI).

Following that broad lead, Pletnev's Russian National Orchestra version, just out on Ondine, overplays the ballet's symphonic credentials. While it worked for the orchestra's benchmark Sleeping Beauty on DG, in The Nutcracker a conductor has to ensure that emotion doesn't overwhelm the thrill. Too often Pletnev's overplays his hand with pizzicato sounding like Bartók. Someone who better knows the work's temperament is Mark Ermler with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (now available at bargain price on Sony). Unsurprisingly, the seasoned ROH dance-accompanists know how to make this music swing.

But none of these contenders matches the Berlin recording's all-round passion and pizazz. Most notably, Rattle's really thought about the ballet's emotional context. For him and his players, it's not just an orchestral showcase. Underlining the melancholy of Tchaikovsky's score, this Nutcracker confronts the unhappy and lost soul who wrote it. The power and space given to the melodies allows the piece to wear an ambiguous heart on its sleeve. This is proper grown-up stuff, addressing the loss of innocence as well as the garish tinsel of Christmas. By knocking off the dust of routine, Tchaikovsky's seasonal jewel sparkles once more. And Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic's emotional clarity reminds us why we all fell for The Nutcracker in the first place.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 16 Nov 2012, 18:48:59 GMT
Joost Kiefte says:
A beautifully written review, I loved it!

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Dec 2012, 18:27:03 GMT
Kimmo says:
This must be one of the best Amazon reviews I have ever read! At the same time passionate about the music/performance and extremely informative in discussing the main Nutcracker contenders.

Posted on 22 Apr 2013, 03:52:52 BST
Yi-Peng says:
Can I slip in a question for you? I know you've mentioned that Gergiev's Mariinsky orchestra lacks the emotional chops of the BPO. However, does this mean that theatre orchestras may lack emotional chops compared to the BPO or the VPO? I am wondering if there are recordings of operas and ballets where theatre orchestras can deliver the emotional chops of seasoned professional orchestras. Not just in the case of Nutcracker but in even other ballets and operas.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Apr 2013, 09:31:21 BST
As I commented in the review, I think the Royal Opera House recording is very strong... bringing both experience and emotion to the score. I don't think 'emotional chops' and theatre orchestras are mutually exclusive.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Apr 2013, 02:44:55 BST
Last edited by the author on 26 Apr 2013, 02:46:05 BST
Yi-Peng says:
It's just a clarification... because I've rather liked Gergiev's single-disc Nutcracker. Now with the benefit of the IMSLP and its PDFs of many public domain classical pieces I find that the Gergiev speeds are remarkably close to Tchaikovsky's own metronome markings and yet occasionally deviates from them (e.g. in the Arabian Dance). I find that it's just as fine a complete Nutcracker as any out there.
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