Tchaikovsky - The Nutcracker
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Cat No: PTC5186761
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 15th November 2019
ArtistsState Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia ‘Evgeny Svetlanov’
The Nutcracker offers the third PENTATONE release of the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia “Evgeny Svetlanov” together with its Artistic Director Vladimir Jurowski, after Prokofiev Symphonies 2 & 3 (2017) and Swan Lake (2018). Jurowski has recorded extensively for PENTATONE and is generally seen as one of the most prominent conductors of his generation.
2Act 1: The Christmas Tree
3Act 1: March of the Toy Soldiers
4Act 1: Children's Gallop and Dance of the Parents
5Act 1: Arrival of Drosselmeyer
6Act 1: Scene and Grandfather Waltz
7Act 1: Clara and the Nutcracker
8Act 1: The Battle
9Act 1: A Pine Forest in Winter
10Act 1: Waltz of the Snowflakes
11Act 2: The Magic Castle in the Land of Sweets
12Act 2: Clara and the Nutcracker Prince
13Act 2: Divertissement. Chocolate (Spanish Dance)
14Act 2: Divertissement. Coffee (Arabian Dance)
15Act 2: Divertissement. Tea (Chinese Dance)
16Act 2: Divertissement. Trepak (Russian Dance)
17Act 2: Divertissement. Dance of the Reed Flutes
18Act 2: Divertissement. Mother Ginger and the Polichinelles
19Act 2: Waltz of the Flowers
20Act 2: Pas de deux. Sugar Plum Fairy and Her Cavalier
21Act 2: Pas de deux. Tarantella
22Act 2: Pas de deux. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
23Act 2: Pas de deux. Coda, Final Waltz
Vladimir Jurowski has fast developed into one of the greatest of present-day Tchaikovsky conductors (his recording of the Fourth Symphony with the LPO was recently picked by Gramophone magazine as the top recording), and this latest disc certainly secures his position. His orchestra (the former USSR Symphony Orchestra of which Svetlanov was chief conductor for many decades) still has a discernibly Russian flavour to it, even if the formerly wayward brass and woodwind are now more disciplined and blended. The rawness they still bring to this music often reminds one of the most successful theatre orchestras of the past, and Jurowski’s reading of The Nutcracker successfully combines a symphonic sweep with a palpable theatrical atmosphere, aided by a well-focused recording.
The performance opens with a delightfully poised account of the Overture, woodwind and strings delicate but nimble, and the antiphonally divided violins bring real benefits, opening up Tchaikovsky’s masterly scoring and revealing the many passages where phrases are tossed to and fro from section to section. ‘The Decoration of the Christmas Tree’ has a very homely feel to it, and the March is brisk and alert but without exaggeration, the woodwind once again fabulously deft, the exchanged phrases in the upper strings excellently done. As Act 1 progresses, the manifest strengths of the performance become ever more apparent: there is a sense of steadily growing excitement from the arrival of the mysterious guest Herr Drosselmeyer onwards, while the ‘Grandfather Waltz’ has a delightful old-school swagger to it. Once the party guests have disappeared, the real enchantment begins, yet all the while Jurowski retains sight of the larger formal arc, so that the grand climaxes are superbly integrated into the whole. The toy sound effects (such as the pop of the gun that sets off the bedroom ‘Battle’ between the mice and the gingerbread soldiers) are tastefully done, while the cascading string chords have real bite to them. After Clara and the Nutcracker manage to rout the forces of the Mouse King, magic again descends with a superbly atmospheric picture of the Pine Forest and an utterly winning account of the ‘Waltz of the Snowflakes’, enhanced by the Sveshnikov Boys’ Choir of the Moscow Choral School.
Jurowski carries forward the sense of narrative arc into Act 2, and here the fun really begins, with superbly characterised dances in the Divertimento. The Spanish, Arabian and Chinese dances have plenty of flavour, while the much-loved Trepak has a uniquely Russian authenticity to it, bracing yet expertly controlled. The flutes and cor anglais in the ‘Dance of the Reed Pipes’ outclass just about all their rivals on disc for musicality and grace as well as magic, and the dance of Mother Ginger and her Polichinelles is toe-tappingly infectious. It is in the ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ and the following pas de deux for the Prince and the Sugar-Plum Fairy that Jurowski’s symphonic sense of pacing really pay dividends, for they feel like a wholly natural outcome of the way he has shaped the ballet up to this point, yet they retain that very theatrical feel established at the outset. For a last dose of chocolate-box magic, the Tarantella and the ‘Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy’ (the latter with excellently balanced celesta) work their unerring charm, before the ‘Final Waltz’ and Apotheosis combine imperial grandeur and childlike rapture in ideal measure.
At a generous 86 minutes, this marvellously played and thrillingly captured performance provides strong competition for other single-disc Nutcrackers from Gergiev and Järvi. For its combination of an authentically Russian soundworld, real theatrical flair, fabulous engineering, superb formal control and a real sense of delight in the music as well as the story, it now surely clinches the top spot, alongside Jurowski’s marvellous accounts of the other two ballets. For a 2019 stocking-filler, look no further!
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