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on December 10, 2001
There are many fine complete Nutcracker recordings available, and I own a few of them. This recording by The Kirov Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev is simply the best, no contest. Why? For starters, the orchestral playing is outstanding. Every detail is heard, you hear nuances never revealed before. The woodwinds bubble,... the brass are assertive yet smooth,... the strings are lovely and lush;... in all, first-rate playing from a superb Russian orchestra that has this music in their blood and plays it with spirit and total enjoyment. Tempi are brisk, but never feel rushed. The sound is in the demonstration class. The whole ballet is contained on one CD which is quite remarkable. I judge an outstanding performance and recording by several factors, which include tears of joy welling up in my eyes along with goosebumps. This Nutcracker provided me an ample supply of both. If you must only own one Nutcracker, this is it. Superlative recommendation.
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on November 21, 2001
Never before has the complete Nutcracker ballet been presented on one cd. Right there, is a perfect reason to buy this right away. Beyond that, you're sure to be amazed as I was at the sound quality of this recording. I was astonished at how live the recording sounded. My mouth hung agape through most of my first listen (no kidding)! It's as if I was trasported into a great hall hearing the clarity, wieght and purity of the music in person. Astounding!
Further, the entire piece seems to have been imbued with some new life force that makes it demand your attention. It's more than the clarity of sound, it's the soul and love behind it. You can hear that, and it makes an indellible impression!
If you love the ballet, music in general or are an audiophile, you simply can't be without this astonishing recording. Pop it in the cd player and prepare to experience first hand some real life, Christmas magic!
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on December 19, 1999
Bravo! Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra have again demonstrated that they are masters of ballet music (after all, it was the Kirov/Mariinsky that gave The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, and the 1895 version of Swan Lake their world premieres). Compared to other recordings of this ballet, such as Mark Ermler's (Royal Opera House Orchestra) Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker or Richard Bonynge's (National Philharmonic Orchestra) Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker / Offenbach: Le Papillon, the tempo of Gergiev's Nutcracker appears to be too fast on first hearing; but it doesn't take long to get used to it. Once you get past that initial shock, this recording is very exciting to listen to. Gergiev conducts with the usual gusto. The Kirov Orchestra's sound is actually more refined here than in many of its other recordings. This may owe to the fact that the performance was recorded in the studio, not at the Mariinsky, which doesn't seem to have good acoustics; or that maybe the Kirov musicians have better instruments now; or that the Philips engineers have finally improved their recording techniques. Though both Bonynge's and Ermler's performance have more danceable tempos, they lack the expressive power that Gergiev is able to generate. In addition, this is a 1-CD recording of the entire ballet (only the repeat in the Grandfather Dance has been left out--not a big deal in my opinion), which makes it especially attractive to get. But for whatever reason, get this recording without delay!
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on November 27, 2005
I have heard rival recordings (Previn, Ashkenzy, Dorati, Ormandy) and they have their good points. I have seen the ballet. I thought I knew this score backwards and forwards, then I heard Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra on this recording and realized that I had been missing a lot. This recording is almost perfect. Many other reviewers have complained about how fast the tempos seem and how they couldn't be danced to it but they are wrong about this. I bought the complete score (Dover just recently issued it) and Gergiev's tempos are pretty much on the mark and match what the score indicates they should be (for example, The score indicates that No 3 (the "Galop of the Children" - it's right after the march) should be played at 168 beats per minute. That's fast but that's the way Tchaikovsky wanted it and Gergiev follows the composer's tempo markings throughout. He is even a little slower than indicated on a couple of numbers. Tchaikovsky's orchestrations are masterful and the Philips engineers have managed to make the listener hear most every little detail in this score. For me this was most noticed in the Snowflake Waltz and Mother Ginger sections. One of the pitfalls of such a detailed recording is that it tends to blow small flaws up. The trumpets in this recording seem to be a bit harsh and, unfortunately come across as the weakest part of this fine orchestra. Fianlly, this is a recording that is meant to be listened to, not danced to. I know that sounds silly but all these people saying that it can't be danced to need to realize that this interpretation is not meant to be danced, it is meant to be heard as a continuous, symphonic piece (and the one disc helps this tremendously). Gergiev and his forces convey all the charm, subtlety, drama and playfulness of this score masterfully. If you want to hear a wonderful interpretation of "The Nutcracker" then this is the CD for you.
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on December 25, 1999
The Valery Gergiev-Kirov Orchestra recording of the Tchaikovsky Nutcracker(Complete) excells in all catagories. Gergiev is one of the finest ballet conductors of our day and is the director of the world famous Kirov ballet and opera.
This performance is unique in the tempo and vividness of the orchestral sound. The technical side of the recording is outstanding and reminded me of the clean and close sound of Mercury Livng Presence during the 1960's. When I looked at the recording credits there was an interesting surprise....This recording was done on custom vacuum tube equipment! And the engineer who designed this eqiipment also was the balance engineer...A remarkable sound and an example of the best in orchestral recording. Recorded in August of 1998 at The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden Germany..
This Nutcracker is complete on one cd and I thought it had to be a shortened version. So I checked the timing and came out with a total of 82 minutes. On checking other complete Nutcracker recordings the average was about 79 minutes...So we have a complete Nutcracker on one cd.
Packaging is interesting...This is not a jewel case cd. Instead a trifold cardboard jacket has been used with the cd in a plastic holder in the center. It's a very convient design and allows lots of room for art and print...
In conclusion....A best of all possible worlds recording that is a pleasure to listen to..Don't miss this one !
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on September 18, 2003
Traditionally, this has always been released as a cumbersome two-CD set. I jumped for joy when I found the entire score was on one CD! The orchestra plays this with much dedication and clarity. People all over the world associate Nutcracker with Russian ballet companies and Gergiev does not disappoint. The tempos are brisk, crisp, electric. The story, whether you've seen the ballet or not, leaps vividly to life with each track. There is a focus and an obvious love tempered with a sense of theater that gives Tchaikovsky his due. The previous two-CD set with which I was familiar was Antal Dorati, whose tempo I found much, much too fast for real enjoyment. The magic of Nutcracker is that when done well, the music stands on its own. For me, a former dancer, this recording helps me remember the things I loved about this ballet while dancing it (check out my amazon nickname hee hee), in addition to all those Christmas seasons I spent pirouetting across a stage. It's simply one of the best recordings available. No Tchaikovsky or ballet lover's collection would be complete without it. A real sparkling gem, so don't miss this one!
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on September 29, 2006
Anyone who thinks that this recording of "The Nutcracker" is on any level exceptional is out of their mind. There are a zillion recordings of "The Nutcracker", whether complete or of excerpts, and for ballet theatre many of these recordings are useless. Alot of famous symphonic conductors have had a hand at recording ballet music, and at least to ballet dancers (the people they were written for) mostly without success - for example Seiji Ozawa conducting "Swan Lake" is like Adam Sandler performing Shakespeare. What makes one a great conductor of symphonic music does not necessarily make one a good conductor of ballet music, and only a very small percentage of the conductors of any recording of "The Nutcracker" or any other ballet have ever conducted a live ballet . As far as I am concerned only a ballet conductor should conduct ballet music.

As a ballet dancer, historian, and a collector of 19th century ballet music, I must say that this is the most appalling recording I have ever heard of "The Nutcracker". Mind you, it is not because of the quality of performance from the orchestra, but of the way the music is handled by Gergiev when conducting so sacred an orchestra as the Kirov/Mariinsky. I find it interesting that Victor Fedotov, perhaps the greatest conductor of ballet music in modern times (who was still alive when this recording was produced) conductor of nearly every ballet performance at the Mariinsky Theatre for over 30 years, was not the one chosen to conduct this recording. Would it not make sense to have the ballet conductor conduct the ballet orchestra in a recording of the ballet music???

The fact that this ballet was all jam-packed onto one CD should be a dead give away as to how horribly raced through and edited the music. This recording has rushed, mathematically maintained tempi (the usual defect with recorded ballet music in the hands of a symphonic conductor), an over bearing brass section, edited passages (optional repeats) - the potential the music has that usually only a ballet conductor can give it is completely gone, as the music is in no way allowed to breathe.

One reviewer on this page says "Tchaikovsky is said to have written the work originaly in a faster tempo than is usualy performed. However, over the years, dancers complained about the brisk pace at which they were to perform. And so, the tempo is now played slower." This statement is horribly incorrect. "The Nutcracker" was written as all 19th century ballet was written - to order - Tchaikovsky was given instructions on what to write by Marius Petipa, and the original performance score does not specify tempo with words. For example "allegro moderato", etc. is nowhere to be found in the variations, as ballet music of the period was played at the preferred speed of the dancer.

Gergiev's recording of Tchaikovsky's original score for "The Sleeping Beauty" doesn't hold a candle to Victor Fedotov's recording of the Kirov Ballet performance score (with all of the proper modifications one only hears in performance).

Whatever Gergiev's strengths are as a conductor of opera or symphony, they are sorely lacking in his conducting of ballet music (Gergiev rarely conducts ballets at the Mariinsky, and it isnt his favorite thing to do) and this recording of "The Nutcracker", just like Gergiev's recording of "The Sleeping Beauty" shows this.

The best recording of "The Nutcracker" you can get is by Richard Bonynge with the National Philharmonic Orchestra. He conducts exactly as the music would be for the stage, and the recording is well balanced, without one section drowning out another. Also there is Sir Chalres Mackares's recording with the London Symphony for the Pacific Northwest Ballet's movie version of "The Nutcracker". Another is by Eugene Ormandy with the Philedelphia Orchestra, though only excerpts.
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on February 1, 2000
The maxim "familiarity breeds contempt" has never been more applicable than to "The Nutcracker". All Christmas season long you hear it in malls, elevators, and in commercials. It's enough to make you sick, so it is a singular artistic triumph that Gergiev and the Kirov redeem this work of genius from the commercial hell it has been cast down into. You can sense the continuity between today's Kirov and the musicians who premiered "Nutcraker" over a hundred years ago. Every crescendo, every accellerando and ritard are right where they should be. "Waltz of the Flowers" builds to a dizzying finale, the character dances are fresh and precise. The sound is crisp and clear. Bravo to everyone involved in making this fine recording!
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on January 3, 2000
This disc has had much acclaim, and for good reason. I was amazed Philips was able to put the whole ballet on one disc, but they did. This makes it a great bargain. But the performance is simply the best available today. The speeds are fast, but I never had the feeling they were too fast. I think the whole piece flows beautifully, and the playing of the Kirov is detailed, romantic, energetic and dramatic. This disc is like biting into ripe fruit, it bursts with flavor. It is undeniably "Russian" in character, and Gergiev gets lots of credit for building this orchestra into such a fine unit. It's a great disc.
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VINE VOICEon July 8, 2006
There is a very healthy defense called "denial" by which the human psyche protects itself from information too troubling for its system to handle. I have noted people using this defense lately to try to convince themselves that Valery Gergiev doesn't do all that he does. For example, a critic prattled about a recent performance with the Mariinsky (Kirov to us Westerners)that it somehow might be different when Gergiev "leaves" the Kirov for London (where he takes up directorship of the LSO next year). Leaves? Who said anything about leaving? He didn't leave when he directed or guest directed the gazillion other orchestras in the last twenty years. He's just going to keep going hither and thither, looking like a walking advertisement for No-Doz and creating better music than most of us could hope to.

I have heard others say, "Oh, well, you know he just *plays* ballet music, he doesn't conduct for dancers." Valery Abisalovitch is the artistic director of the theater he single-handedly rescued from ruin. He conducts opera. He conducts orchestral works. He conducts ballet. As one can see on the Mariinsky website. So yes, if you're wondering about the tempi on this CD, the tempi Tchaikovsky intended originally for this work, the Mariinsky dancers dance *that fast*.

Now, the only thing wrong with this CD is that you will wish you were at the theater in St. Petersburg, seeing perhaps Ruzimatov and Vishneva in the Pas de Deux, instead of listening to the music alone. Although if you close your eyes, you might be able to conjure the vision. Gergiev brings out every subtle sound from the orchestra. The sotto voce triangle brings an elegant but not overstated joyfulness as Clara plays with the Nutcracker for the first time. The strings climb piano to fortepiano to signify the start of battle between the Nutcracker and Mouse King before the trumpet takes over.

One of the most beautiful pieces is the chorus in the Waltz of the Snowflakes. The tube recording makes this so crisp and clear it truly does sound like one is looking through a wintry white woods as big snowflakes fall all around.

I find this recording to be much clearer than the Ballet Suites recording done in 1988. And it's a small thing, but the picture up front is precious, isn't it?

Next to seeing the ballet, which of course is always best, I do not hesitate to recommend this CD.
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