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Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker / Pletnev, Russian National Orchestra

Tchaikovsky / Russian National Orch / Pletnev
Release Date: 09/27/2011 
Label:  Ondine   Catalog #: 1180-2   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Mikhail Pletnev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Russian National Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY The Nutcracker Mikhail Pletnev, cond; Russian Natl O ONDINE ODE1180 (2 CDs: 93: 17)

A legend shattered: According to the annotations that accompany this set, Tchaikovsky, despite his determined efforts, was not the first composer to use the celesta—Chausson beat him to it by three years, and Tchaikovsky first used it in The Voyevoda , not The Nutcracker.

Even Read more eliminating duplications, there have been more than 50 recordings of the complete ballet and I won’t even try to account for all those of the Nutcracker Suite! While on that subject, a warning: The Beecham “ Nutcracker Suite” on Music and Arts only includes a few of the movements, and Mravinsky’s (Philips) contains none of them—he recorded what came to be known as the Nutcracker Suite No. 2, which consists of the “Departure of the Guests” and “The Battle” from act I, and the “Forest Scene,” Waltz of the Snowflakes, Pas de deux, Final Waltz and Apotheosis from act II. Turning to the complete ballet, I should warn you that the Summit recording by the Naples (Florida) Philharmonic, though well played and recorded, remains uncompetitive because it’s aimed at kids, with large chunks of music submerged by two narrators describing the action and telling the story, or at least a version of it concocted by Paul Kresh and revised by David Schildkret and the conductor/producer. If your children are too young to appreciate the sort of picture-book that accompanies the Jansons or the charming cutouts that come (or used to) with the Slatkin Nutcracker, I suppose that hearing the story told, even over some of the music, might be a useful way of acquainting them with this score and with classical music in general.

As I suggested, Mikhail Pletnev’s new recording enters a crowded field of which I have heard about half of the recordings, so I will hesitate to call it the “best one” but I will call it the best one I’ve ever heard and that includes some pretty good ones—Temirkanov, Ansermet, Jansons, Bonynge, Bychkov, Thomas, Svetlanov. In the past, I have made no secret of my preference for “balletic” (i.e., danceable) tempos. Without dancers to accommodate, many conductors, some of them experienced ballet maestros, speed up, as if afraid that, without dancing, the music lacks sufficient interest to stand on its own. The Pletnev performance’s 93-minute timing made me suspect that a lot of the numbers were going to be presented in a relaxed, sympathetic way and, although the performance does not lack brilliance when the music calls for it, the general impression I get is of a conductor who can almost envision the dancers on stage before him, loves the music, has an idea how it should go, and isn’t trying to impress me. Like nearly all the recordings it’s well played, and more so than many of them has warm, plush sound to support the performance.

FANFARE: James Miller
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Works on This Recording

Nutcracker, Op. 71 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Mikhail Pletnev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Russian National Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891-1892; Russia 

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