"Michael Tilson Thomas made some excellent records with the Philharmonia in the ’80s, and although I hadn’t come across this particular performance before, knowing this conductor’s flair for such music, I expected good things. I wasn’t disappointed.
The Nutcracker was the final ballet in Tchaikovsky’s great triptych, and was completed in 1891, a year during which the composer made a fatiguing concert tour of America and also suffered a nervous collapse. There is real justification in calling Tchaikovsky the father of the modern ballet score, and he effectively paved the way for dance-theatre music to be taken seriously. However, his first ballets were coolly received, and he was (as ever) wracked with self-doubt aboutRead more this work, even after the premiere. This score has, of course, gone on to become one of his most popular scores.
Like Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker is most often heard in highlight form, but in fact works better when experienced complete. It’s just the right length, and has so many famous numbers that it seems ridiculous to condense it to 20 or 30 minutes. I do possess excerpt discs, but turn most frequently to my benchmark complete version, Ashkenazy’s Decca recording with the Royal Philharmonic. It has a spectacular sound, full, rich and wide-ranging, and a very useful fill-up is included, Glazunov’s masterpiece The Seasons. However, that set is at full price, so the real competition for this budget Sony release comes from Previn’s excellent LSO version (now on Classics for Pleasure, also without a filler), and Dorati’s marvellous Concertgebouw recording on a Philips Duo, which finds room for a substantial Sleeping Beauty selection (Fistoulari and the LSO).
The fact that Tilson Thomas can hold his own against anyone is immediately evident in the Overture, which has a Mendelssohnian lightness and graceful wit that is captivating. As a Bernstein protégé, MTT is a theatrical conductor through and through (listen to any of his Mahler or Copland records), so he is completely at home with the colour and drama of this great score. His pacing throughout is exemplary, on the fast side but with ensemble crisp and rhythms tight. All the famous dances of Act 2 are as infectious as one could wish for; listen to the delectable trumpet playing in the Spanish Dance, whilst the Russian Dance has tremendous weight and panache. The principals of the Philharmonia obviously relish the many solos that litter the score, and indeed the whole orchestra enjoy themselves enormously. I like the way Tilson Thomas gives due attention to Tchaikovsky’s exotic ‘special-effects’, including a child’s trumpet in C, children’s drums, a rattle and mechanisms suggesting cuckoos and quails. He even uses a ratchet and Irish whistle in the Grandfather’s Dance, while kazoos, toy snare drums and a children’s cap gun are used in The Battle. Marvellous fun!
The whole performance has a flair and feeling of ‘rightness’ that are very captivating. The conductor never loses sight of the famous adage that ‘there is a lot of ballet in Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, and a lot of the symphony in his ballets’. He gives everything its due place, so one feels an organic growth in the piece, rather than a succession of set-pieces. Listening to these discs was as satisfying as any of the competition I had to hand, and in many ways the short playing time ceases to be an issue in the face of a great performance. Recording quality is also well up to scratch, with a full-bodied richness that matches the playing...highly recommended."
Nutcracker, Op. 71by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Conductor:
Michael Tilson Thomas
Period: Romantic Written: 1891-1892; Russia
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
ONE OF THE BEST!!!December 30, 2014By Zita Carno (Tampa, FL)See All My Reviews"With the Christmas season there is usually a plethora of recordings of The Nutcracker, and I've heard a lot of those---and I keep coming back to this one. Michael Tilson Thomas has, as usual, surpassed himself here, and since I much prefer complete to highlights, this is the one I will get for my library. And let me tell you a funny story about one particular Nutcracker I videotaped some time ago---a French recording choreographed by one Rudolf Nureyev. His version of the Arabian Dance is one for the books! The scene takes place in a coffee shop, not unusual considering the dance is about coffee, and the two protagonists are a couple of guys sitting at a table---arguing about who's going to pay for the coffee. No one is paying any attention to the two dancers, lovely as they are; it's all about who's footing the bill, and the argument gets more and more heated, until the manager comes over and demands to know who's paying the bill---whereupon one of the customers jumps up, throws the empty coffee cup on the table and storms out of the place with both his companion and the manager after him, and all three screaming at each other in what has to be just plain English! I can't help laughing every time the ballet gets to that scene as I think about Nureyev's take on what should have been a simple cup of joe! Anyway, thanks to Tilson Thomas for a spectacular and beautiful Nutcracker."Report Abuse