Notes and Editorial Reviews
Standard Edition also available.
Tchaikovsky’s most famous work, The Nutcracker, is presented in this stunning new recording by the world’s greatest orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker, under the baton of their celebrated conductor Sir Simon Rattle. This musical fairytale follows Clara and her unusual prince and protector, The Nutcracker, through adventures and exotic delights in the magical Kingdom of Sweets.
The Nutcracker is the most popular ballet, and its annual holiday performances have become a treasured tradition the world over. This release features the live recording of Act II from December 2009’s Silvesterkonzert, Germany’s New Year’s
celebrations. Act I was recorded in the studio during the same period.
This special, limited "experience edition" 2-CD set features a 52-page hardcover book (in English, French, and German) that includes:
* Introduction by Sir Simon Rattle
* Historical Context section
* Pictures from the first production
* Set and costume sketches
* Original Hoffmann illustrations
* Programs and posters from famous productions
* Online exclusive content and access code.
Since joining the Berlin Philharmonic as their principal conductor Sir Simon Rattle has made, by my reckoning twenty five recordings. They encompass an eclectic mix covering some twenty-three composers. Many thought that Rattle would take much British music to Berlin but this has not been the case. Surprisingly his only English representation has been Britten and Holst with short works by Matthews and Turnage.
Naturally every new recording from this source creates a great deal of interest and the present release is no exception. The Rattle message-board knockers are at it already. Deriding his choice of
The Nutcracker. Even criticising him for recording a composer like Tchaikovsky. Saying what happened to the radical conductor that recorded Turnage’s
Three Screaming Popes; Maw’s
Symphony No.1? I should think that it’s simple economics. These days the major orchestras tend only to record works that they are confident will sell in large numbers. It’s true that Tchaikovsky is one of the Berlin Phil’s most performed composers. However in the Rattle CD discography this is the first Tchaikovsky recording. Rattle hasn’t always been a fan as he explains in the booklet. For me the principal artistic reason for deciding which music to record is quality so
The Nutcracker is an easy and logical choice. Oh, yes and for economic reasons too the disc will sell and almost certainly in large numbers.
First performed in 1892 the orchestral suite was a great hit. Less successful was the first staging at the Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg a year later. For many decades the ballet lagged behind
Swan Lake and
The Sleeping Beauty in the popularity stakes.
Today it is undoubtedly one of Tchaikovsky’s best loved compositions and the most performed of all ballets. This musical fairytale is a seasonal favourite as the scenario centres around Christmas Eve with the magician Drosselmeyer and the young girl Clara’s present of a Nutcracker doll. The plot follows the incredible adventures of Clara and the Nutcracker through the Winter Snow/Pine Forest and the Kingdom of the Sweets in Confiturembourg.
Rattle and the Berlin Phil recorded the second act of
The Nutcracker across three live concerts at the Berlin Philharmonie on 29-31 December 2009. The three concerts celebrated
Silvesterkonzert, Germany’s New Year’s celebrations. Also on the
programme was Rachmaninov’s
Piano Concerto No. 2 played by Lang Lang. The first act of
The Nutcracker was recorded around the same period but without an audience.
The EMI recording is available in various editions. I have what the label call the ‘Experience Edition’. This is a special, limited edition double CD set within a sturdy 52 page hardcover book. This details the history and context through a series of photographs, illustrations and essays including an introduction from Rattle. The wrap cover includes access to additional online content on the simonrattle.com/nutcracker website via an access code. I have watched some of the exclusive footage from Rattle’s
Silvesterkonzert 2009 that was recorded live for this recording. There are also short interviews with some of the Berlin Phil players with English subtitles when needed. Also contained is an audio accompaniment of some of the music and some sheet music can be downloaded. MP3 ringtones; wallpapers and mobile wallpapers are also available for download. There is also a 24 hour ticket to allow unlimited access to the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall for live broadcasts and archive recordings. The ‘Standard Edition’ is a two disc release of
The Nutcracker on EMI 6463852 with access to what are described as ‘digital extras’. There is a ‘Discovery Edition’ which is a single disc of highlight’s on EMI 6421222 and there is also an iTunes LP for download. Full details of the various editions are contained on the site: www.simonrattle.com/nutcracker.
I have attended Berlin Phil concerts twice this year. They are certainly one of the world’s elite orchestras and the majority of the players perform to a high solo standard. Together, under the right conductor, their sound can be quite awe-inspiring. Rattle is certainly the right conductor and on this recording the playing is of the highest quality. With a keen grasp of direction the players respond by achieving the highest levels of controlled expression. With invigorating rhythms and vivid colours the drama is fresh and convincing.
The famous melody of the miniature
March is joyful and highly engaging. Here I loved the scurrying pizzicato figures on the low strings. In the
Waltz of the Snowflakes Rattle
has provided a Christmas sleigh-ride feel with jingling bells, effervescent woodwind and a boys choir. There is a cool and fresh open air feel to the scene of the
Kingdom of the Sweets as they approach the castle in their boat. In the
Spanish Dance a
Allegro brillante is a castanet-bedecked romp that sparkles with life. Exotic and sultry, the
Arabian Dance is beautifully played and highly affecting. I was struck by the smoothly mellow clarinet in its low registers. The short interchange between the oboe and cor anglais is simply glorious.
It’s hard to get away from the associations with the Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut chocolate commercial in the captivating
Dance of the Flutes with its superb silvery flutes and contrasting trumpet. Right from the splendid harp introduction to the
Waltz of the Flowers the sumptuous playing is remarkable. Regarded as the high point of the ballet the
Pas de deux with its magnificent melody increases in weight to thrilling effect especially in the blazing climax. The memorable
Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy is mesmerising. Its singing theme is given to the celesta with reply from the bass clarinet.
Due out in February 2011 is a new release of the Mahler
Symphony No.2 from Rattle and the Berlin Phil with Kate Royal and Magdalena Kožená and the Rundfunkchor Berlin on EMI Classics 6473635. Illness prevented me attending one of the October Berlin performances of the Mahler
Symphony No. 2 from which this recording was made so I am particularly keen to hear this new recording. I understand that the digital download is already available.
I enjoyed this disc of Rattle’s
The Nutcracker immensely and it will be one of my Records of the Year for 2010. Beautifully played and recorded this sumptuously presented release will I’m sure be a runaway Christmas success. Maybe one day the Berlin Phil will record the Vaughan Williams symphonies; now
that would be something.
-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Nutcracker, Op. 71 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1891-1892; Russia
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