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Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker; Glazunov: The Seasons / Ashkenazy

Release Date: 04/18/2007 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 433000   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Peter Ilyich TchaikovskyAlexander Glazunov
Conductor:  Vladimir Ashkenazy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Decca obviously have an honoured place in their catalogue for Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet. Ansermet pioneered the first complete (and outstanding) stereo version for this label in the late 1950s and Ashkenazy's new CD is a worthy successor. Ansermet's version was a demonstration recording in its day and this new one, made at Walthamstow, offers state-of-the-art sound, glowingly rich, with lovely, full string textures, immediately noticeable in the ''Miniature Overture'', which is mellow and silky. Ashkenazy is very relaxed and easeful here as he is throughout the Party scene in Act 1, which he opens with the strings again very graceful and the woodwind interchanges immediately beguiling. The charming ''March'' is very precise and brings Read more an immediate visual picture of toy soldiers. Then the ''Children's galop and Entry of the parents'' is delightfully pointed as the children skip in, and becomes more sedate for the parents, lightening again at the distribution of the presents. (The whole of this scene—track 5—is full of captivating ideas and Ashkenazy is very flexible in handling the changing tempos, and observing detail, not pressing on as strongly as in some versions, yet letting the music gather momentum naturally.)

The colours of Tchaikovsky's scoring glow and glitter and the ear is constantly titillated by the variety of orchestral effects which light up even the joining-in music between the set numbers. There is some wonderfully light and airy playing from the violins at the presentation of the toy Nutcracker and again the ebb and flow of tempo is neatly handled. At the end of this section there are some spectacular special effects—toy whistles and so on—unexplained in the synopsis, presumably the children's presents being tried out vociferously. When the guests join the ''Grandfather Dance'', the basic rhythm is as heavy as plum pudding, so one knows this is a German household. The clock striking midnight is obviously from a church outside. The glowing acoustic ensures that when night falls (Ashkenazy caressing Tchaikovsky's string melody hauntingly) and the magic begins, the listener is given a real sense of anticipation. Then after the mock spectacular ''Battle'' the journey through the pine forest brings a glorious surge of sumptuous romanticism, led first by the horns, then the strings, to an expansive climax. The ''Waltz of the Snowflakes'', though dainty, brings a rich-toned contribution from the Finchley Children's Music Group, and all the famous characteristic dances are multi-hued. In the ''Waltz of the Flowers'' the horns have that warm plumminess of tone one remembers from the Stokowski account in Disney's Fantasia (which I grew up on) and the great Pas de deux has characteristic Russian flamboyance.

What better encore could be provided than the whole of Glazunov's Seasons ballet, very much in the tradition of The Nutcracker in its iridescent colours (''Frost'', ''Hail'', ''Ice'' and ''Snow'' come from a child's kindly imaginings and are pretty rather than fiercely freezing). Ashkenazy revels in the fragile, lacy scoring, yet is fully at one with the warm string melody of ''Spring'', the delicious ''Waltz of the Cornflowers and Poppies'' of ''Summer'', and the exuberant vigour of the big, thrusting tune of ''Autumn''. Altogether this elegant, sprightly and beautifully played account is the finest the ballet has yet received on disc. This time the Decca engineers were working in Watford Town Hall, where the acoustic is ideal—the sound is gorgeous, with a languorous basic patina, evocative atmosphere, but no mistiness.

Congratulations to the producer, Paul Myers, but not to the editorial department at Decca. The notes give us plenty of background information about the music, but the synopses are too brief (and often in The Nutcracker the discs are not generously enough cued—a seven-minute section, at the very least, needs indexing). Each section of the ballets needs to be related in detail to the narrative. However, the set gives enormous pleasure and the sound will confound anyone who says digital recording is inevitably too sharply delineated.'

Ivan March, Gramophone, 4/1992
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Works on This Recording

Nutcracker, Op. 71 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Vladimir Ashkenazy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891-1892; Russia 
The Seasons, Op. 67 by Alexander Glazunov
Conductor:  Vladimir Ashkenazy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1899; Russia 

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