Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker
Mikhail Pletnev blows so hot and cold, remaining such an enigmatic mix of fire and ice, that I always wonder why he and his not always very individual-sounding Russian National Orchestra (RNO) have been deemed a good match for the irrepressibly warm-blooded Tchaikovsky. No one could say Pletnev doesn’t know this music well – his virtuoso piano transcription of The Nutcracker excerpts is a classic – but the third of his Tchaikovsky ballet recordings is as much of a curate’s egg as the other two.
Stay awake through a Christmas party which includes RNO strings on chilly form, a far-too-slow little waltz, an over-mechanical dance of the girl with the nutcracker and a too-soporific Berceuse, and you’ll enjoy wonders around midnight. I love the slow burn of Pletnev’s Christmas-tree transformation, the nimbleness of the battle between the Nutcracker’s forces and the mice, and the strangeness of his Snowflake Waltz. Act II is generally more consistent, with nicely spotlit contributions from harps and celesta; only a less than soaring climax to the narrative sequence, a Spanish Dance reluctant to be flamboyant with its flamenco frills, and a slightly less than danceable ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ temporarily lower temperatures. Still, the RNO woodwind have plenty of character throughout, and are brightly lit by Ondine’s vivid recording; prepare for an earthquake in the big, symphonic Act I climaxes, the sphere in which Pletnev truly excels. For the last degree of warmth and character, though, I’d stick with Valery Gergiev, John Lanchbery or André Previn.