Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Symphony No. 4
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Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Symphony No 4
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When Tchaikovskys masterpiece ballet The Nutcracker premiered at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre on December 18, 1892, it was met with immediate praise and success. Now, almost 125 years later, the work is once again brought to life in that same hall by Valery Gergiev. Tchaikovskys style combined developments of the Western European musical traditions while still keeping his distinct Russian style. His adoration for magic and fantasy works is evident in this delightful ballet. In addition to The Nutcracker, this release also includes Tchaikovskys powerful Fourth Symphony. The work is patterned after Beethovens Fifth, and is well known for its theme of fate, which is announced by the recurring fanfare which holds the work together. Gergiev takes us back to that first light of inspiration, and his orchestra plays as if guided by the composers own hand. (The New York Times)
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The Nutcracker seems to be recorded at a slight distance from the orchestra pit, Whereas the Symphony sounds like the mikes were right in
the pit. The Nutcracker sounds "dreamy". The Symphony sounds "In your face". Both performances are really quite good. Gergiev's second go at
Nutcracker seems slower than his first The Phillips recording times out at 81:12. This one times out at 79:00, minus the symphony. Sound wise the
Phillips recording sounds warmer, this one sounds as I said a little dreamy. The Symphony is as good a performance as any in the catalog. This Nutcracker is good, maybe not the best ever, but could compete with most in the catalog. The Phillips recording still holds a place in my heart, but this one is good enough for me.
When many artists get into their "Yesterday Once More" mode and re-record their signature pieces, the results may not always be the best. Some artists like Mackerras or Gardiner present bedded-in re-recordings. In the case of Gergiev, his re-recordings sometimes depart from his earlier versions. So I tend not to have a consistent experience with him. Sometimes his first takes are better, and on other occasions, his retakes are better put together.
I have enjoyed Gergiev's LSO versions of the Rachmaninov Second Symphony and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet score, but I don't find this Nutcracker one of his stronger retakes. I find that the speeds do not relate to each other, especially in the well-loved numbers that constitute the well-loved Suite. For instance, I find that the Waltz of the Flowers lacks suavity. The slow speed that Gergiev adopts here (and in the ensuing Pas de deux) tends to stall, even though he turns up the heat shortly before the coda. The Chinese Dance is a bit heavy-footed and lumpy. Elsewhere in this re-recording, I find that Gergiev is better in the mimetic music, especially in the first act. In these sections, for instance, he is better at moulding climaxes, notably when the Christmas tree grows before the battle with the mice. Generally I find that this different parts of the Nutcracker performance do not add up convincingly to a coherent whole as his earlier version did, as there is less connection between the various numbers.
Gergiev's Nutcracker retake plays for 84 minutes and offers ample room on the second disc for a new recording of the Fourth Symphony. I still regard the DG Mravinsky version very highly, but I find that the latest Gergiev version does not feel coherent as a performance compared to his earlier Vienna Philharmonic version. There tends to be drops of tension in the first movement and gear changes in the second. The second half fares better because of a thrust in the finale.
As far as sound quality is concerned, I'm not too pleased with the congested sound (at least on the 2-channel red book CD layer.) It does not allow the strings to sound rich and full-bodied or highlight the distinctive timbre of the high winds, celeste and harp. More often than not I find that the sound does not really open up and bloom. Many Mariinsky releases tend to have this problem.
Despite Gergiev's efforts to do something new with existing repertoire, I am not persuaded by this Nutcracker retake. I find that the earlier version has better-sprung rhythms and a more open recording quality that brings out the sparkle in the score. I know it may promote the hurry-up culture (and listeners might need the likes of Previn and Bonynge to keep an even keel) but it has a more coherent vision and looks sharper about itself.