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Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker Suite, Sleeping Beauty / Anatole Fistoulari

Release Date: 03/10/2009 
Label:  Opus Kura   Catalog #: 7041   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Anatole Fistoulari
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Conservatoire OrchestraParis National Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY The Sleeping Beauty. The Nutcracker: Suite No. 1; Suite No. 2 (ed. Fistulari) Anatole Fistoulari, cond; Paris Conservatory O OPUS KURA 7041, mono (2 CDs: 152:20)

In case you’re curious about his origins, Anatole Fistoulari was born in Kiev in 1907 and reputedly conducted an orchestra for the first time when he was seven years old. I guess you could say that he was something of a prodigy. Given such an impressive start, one might have Read more expected him to achieve international celebrity status but, while he was a busy conductor from his twenties on, he seems never to have been a big star and, after his death in 1995, he inspired no posthumous cult. His career after 1940 was centered in Great Britain. Although he did record “straight” orchestral music, because of his association with Leonide Massine’s Paris company, he seems to have been pigeonholed as a ballet specialist, and that is how he appears here on a reissue of his 1952 “complete” Sleeping Beauty and a 1951 sampling of music from The Nutcracker , which Decca/London, for some reason, did not want to record complete.

Of course, calling this Sleeping Beauty “complete” is stretching things a bit, since the entire work runs at least two-and-a-half hours and my favorite recordings, those of Bonynge and Mogrelia, run closer to three. Although his discreet cutting of repeats and omission of less familiar music still leaves one with the sense of having heard a “complete” performance, Fistoulari’s recording only runs about 1:45. At least Fistoulari was probably the one who decided what was going in and what was going out. Nowadays, in order to squeeze long works onto two CDs, recording companies routinely omit things that were on the original three CD or LP issue; in fact, it has happened on recordings of Tchaikovsky’s ballets, though I won’t go into specifics. Just be wary of two-CD reissues of things that were originally on three. Fistoulari may have speeded up a bit to get more music in, but the performance never really sounds rushed; it generally has a comfortable, “balletic” feel to it. As for the Nutcracker , Tchaikovsky never wrote a Suite No. 2, but Fistoulari (like Fiedler) invented his own as a way to include some beautiful but less familiar music from the complete work. A pity that he wasn’t allowed to do the whole thing, because, for me, at least, his way with the ubiquitous Suite No. 1 is put in the shade only by Beecham’s—generally relaxed, danceable tempos, as if he can see the choreography transpiring before him, and he brings the same balletic feel to the other Nutcracker pieces, leaving out some repeats so he can squeeze in more music. The Paris Conservatory Orchestra disappeared back in the 1960s, when about 30 of its members were absorbed by the then-new Orchestra of Paris when Charles Munch was selecting its members. The light strings, bright winds, and horns with vibrato are a sound that one seldom hears nowadays, but it approximates what Tchaikovsky might have heard in the Russia of the late 19th century, when the Russian aristocracy took its cues from France. I think that you might have a problem hearing that sound in Russia or France nowadays, when “national” orchestra sounds are passé—take a look at the names of the personnel of some of the most famous orchestras; many look like a virtual UN.

I haven’t heard these LPs for many decades, but I’ll bet they never sounded this good. As in the case of their reissue of Fistoulari’s Swan Lake , the Opus Kura producers searched what is apparently used LP heaven (Tokyo) and came up with copies of both of these recordings. They also used the Internet to dig up two more copies of the Nutcracker from the United States. Once again, they have done such an impressive job that the reissue is a pleasure to listen to. One gets the sensation that they have milked every last drop of sound that was present on the original LPs. Whether or not you need an incomplete Sleeping Beauty and about half of the Nutcracker —no matter how sympathetic the performances—is another issue. If you are curious about what can be done with early 1950s recordings, by all means check this one out. There are annotations in Japanese and English. The annotations are appropriately informative, if not exactly in the most idiomatic English (“The Japanese label Opus Kura, specialized in historical recordings, releases judiciously, in world premiere on CD, the monophonic records . . .”). It reminds me of the fun I used to have reading the “English” annotations on Hungaroton and other labels.

FANFARE: James Miller
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Works on This Recording

Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Anatole Fistoulari
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Conservatoire Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Russia 
Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Anatole Fistoulari
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris National Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888-1889; Russia 

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