WORKS: The Nutcracker
PERFORMER: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/ Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5144 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Neeme Järvi does many things supremely well, but rapt wonder – an essential quality for Tchaikovsky’s ballets, especially The Nutcracker – does not appear to be one of them. Many numbers are taken briskly, it seems, not simply to get this relatively short ballet onto a single disc: there are previous instances – most notably the Panorama from Sleeping Beauty – where Järvi appeared intent on getting through a deliciously slow number as quickly as possible. While there is nothing quite so extreme here, it is not long before Järvi’s impatience with the repetitions of ballet music becomes clear: in the overture he imposes some fussy terracing of dynamics to create crescendos (and later, in the Grandfather’s Dance, several diminuendos). Nor is he particularly vivid in the pantomime sections: Clara’s dance with her nutcracker and the tussle in which it gets broken is done with little sense of drama.
Elsewhere, Järvi not only obscures some of Tchaikovsky’s most characterful orchestration (the pell-mell speed for Mother Gigogne means the dance’s striking bassoon and bass clarinet instrumentation barely registers), but even countermands it: for the attar-of-roses river, he has the flutes play straight, rather than flutter-tongue as Tchaikovsky explicitly and enterprisingly indicates in the score. The character dances, well known from their appearance in the Suite, are effectively done, but scarcely make this recording a competitor against Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic’s more sympathetic performance on Warner.