Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: The Nutcracker
PERFORMER: Kirov Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 462 114-2
The dream, the child-like wonder of The Nutcracker, remains irrepressible. But it’s not a work that plays itself. Slacken the pulse for a moment, take your eye off entries, fail to believe in its fantasy world, and it can only too easily fall apart. Gergiev and his Kirov company need no reminding of the fact. Resisting contrived understatement, free of coyness or condescension, this is one of the most compellingly dramatised, rhythmically uplifting, charismatically charmed versions of recent years, its bold, grand, savage, sweeping, three-dimensionally involving attack underlining a wealth of refined nuances and charged emotions. Detail is phenomenal, the ensemble glowingly realised, the Act II divertissement thrillingly contrasted and physically exhilarating. Colouring, projection, riotous textural overspill (from 77:42, for instance), climax, novelty (a wonderfully flighted Stravinsky Firebird foreshadowed at 15:50) are everything. Continuity within and between numbers likewise; tempo too (at 81 minutes, this is a brisk reading). Compared with the vintage handling of the old ballet masters (Ansermet, Dorati, Mravinsky), the classic-cut transatlantic dash and elegance of analogue Previn, or the varyingly intense Russian competition of Ashkenazy, Ermler, Fedoseyev, Rozhdestvensky, Svetlanov and Temirkanov, Gergiev’s urgently pressing passion may seem hard and unyielding, but it’s an approach that brings its own rewards, theatrically and structurally. And his musicality is infectious. If you like your Nutcracker fairies all-Russian, wide-screen and super-lit, if you want an up-front orchestral encounter, then this has to be a clear first recommendation. Recorded in the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus last August, the sound balance is grippingly demonstration-class. You almost feel on stage. Terrific. Ates Orga