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Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker; Aurora Wedding

Tchaikovsky / Dutoit / Montreal Sym Orch
Release Date: 10/09/2012 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4806549   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



TCHAIKOVSKY The Nutcracker. Aurora’s Wedding Charles Dutoit, cond; Montreal SO DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 6549 (2 CDs: 135:24)


As most ballet-goers know, The Nutcracker consists of more than the eight pieces that make up the popular Nutcracker Suite . For many people, performances of the complete ballet are almost as much a part of the Christmas season as Santa Claus and, I suppose, so is the release of Read more another recording of the ballet or the suite. Here, Decca Eloquence salutes the season with a reissue of Charles Dutoit’s potent 1992 recording with his Montreal Symphony Orchestra. As an admirer of his complete Swan Lake , I expected a sympathetic, if someone muscular, approach to the music and that is pretty much what Dutoit delivers, supported by the big, solid but detailed sound that Decca London got at St. Eustache in Montreal. It is my understanding that most of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra’s recordings had to be made late at night or early in the morning so that traffic could be diverted away from the church but it apparently had no effect on the orchestra’s playing. There’s nothing “wrong” with the performance but my preference is for more “balletic,” relaxed tempos like those of, say, Pletnev and Temirkanov, the lighter, brighter texture of Ansermet’s, and even an acknowledgement of some of the score’s quirkiness (Bonynge’s). Those who would like a one-disc Nutcracker might consider Gergiev’s (Tilson Thomas’s has a few cuts) if they don’t object to tempos that are, needless to say, on the fast side (the only cut I caught was a repeated passage in the “Old Men’s Dance”). Dutoit’s performance has its frustrating side, too, since it suggests what he might have done with The Sleeping Beauty , a score that seems made for his big, “symphonic” approach. His way with Aurora’s Wedding actually provides some evidence.


I am now going to quote from a review of a Stokowski Aurora’s Wedding that I wrote quite some time ago, rather than paraphrase it: “In November 1921, the impresario Serge Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes presented a nearly full-length production of the Tchaikovsky-Petipa Sleeping Beauty (retitled The Sleeping Princess by Diaghilev) at the Alhambra Theatre in London. As Richard Shead wrote in his history of the company, ‘He was taking an enormous risk, as he must have known. Neither London nor Paris had taken greatly to Giselle or Le Lac des Cygnes ( Swan Lake ). He had accustomed audiences to barbarously sophisticated (or sophisticatedly barbarous) spectacles such as (Prince) Igor, Schéhérazade , and Thamar , and to witty character ballets such as La Boutique fantasque and Le Tricorne ( The Three-Cornered Hat ). Would they accept the pure, unadulterated classicism of Petipa? Nowadays, of course, the great 19th-century ballets provide the safest way to fill a house . . . but this was by no means the case in the early 1920s.’ He also suggests that, because they had become accustomed to dancing to Leonid Massine’s choreography, some of the dancers may have even lost touch with their classical roots. The Sleeping Princess was not The Sleeping Beauty as we know it. Some numbers were cut. A few excerpts from The Nutcracker were interpolated. Some numbers were choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska. Some were reorchestrated by Stravinsky. The sets and costumes of Leon Bakst, if one may judge by illustrations, were spectacular (and expensive). Much of the audience, accustomed to clever novelties, got bored seeing the same characters on stage all evening. ‘Sophisticated’ listeners found Tchaikovsky’s music cloying and passé. Some found the ballet to be an empty spectacle. In any event, despite the fact that the production produced a group of impassioned enthusiasts who returned night after night (and sat in the cheap seats), it got lousy reviews and bombed at the box office, by far the biggest failure of Diaghilev’s career. The presenter who had put up the money to hire the company kept the lavish sets and wouldn’t part with them unless Diaghilev came up with the money to meet his losses. Trying to salvage something from the disaster, Diaghilev (with help from someone like Stravinsky?) took about 45 minutes’ worth of music from the full score, juggled the sequence a bit, and arranged a one-act ballet called Aurora’s Wedding . Although it deals with the events of the last act, it uses some music from earlier ones. It was first presented in Monte Carlo, using sets from another ballet. Since it is a brilliant divertissement, it eventually took on a life of its own outside of the complete work.”


I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “definitive” edition of Aurora’s Wedding . I have heard two Stokowski recordings, seen it performed, and have now heard Dutoit’s, which contains more music than Stokowski’s. Ballet companies probably follow the general run of the score but not the letter, whatever that may be. In any event, Dutoit’s performance is superb—the various “character” dances get their due and so do the grander musical gestures and, although Bonynge’s Decca London recording is actually my favorite Sleeping Beauty because of its “balletic” tempos, it’s frustrating to think of what Dutoit, with his big, symphonic approach might have done with the complete score.


FANFARE: James Miller
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