Nutcracker (Complete Ballet) Op. 71/Tchaikovsky

December 9, 2007

 

nutcracker-kunzel.jpgOne of the most popular classical works around the Christmas season is the wonderful ballet music to the Nutcracker composed in 1891-1892 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Parts were used in Fantasia which drew much attention to the work making some of the themes instantly recognizable to the general public, young and old. It has been performed in various guises by such artists as Duke Ellington, Spike Jones, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Wynton Marsalis. The variation, “Nut Rocker” rose to #1 in the charts in the UK and is associated with the hockey team the Boston Bruins. Based on the theme from the “Children’s Galop and Arrival of the Guests” it is certainly a rocking version of the melody performed by B. Bumble and the Stingers. Quite a popular ballet for a composer who was filled with a lot of self doubt about the work.

It is quite important to note that the Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, is only 8 sections or roughly 25 minutes of a 90 minute work. Listed below are the sections included in the suite. If you also notice it does have a different opus number 71a instead of 71.

I. OvertureII. Danses caractéristiques

A. Marche

B. Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy [ending altered from ballet-version]

C. Russian Dance

D. Arabian Dance

E. Chinese Dance

F. Reed-Flutes

III. Waltz of the Flowers

Fantasia has gone one step further and eliminated the “Overture” and “Marche”, as well as changing the order of the tracks.I. Danses caractéristiquesA. Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy (Dew Fairies)

B. Chinese Dance (Chinese Mushrooms)

C. Reed-Flutes (Blossoms)

D. Arabian Dance (Goldfish)

E. Russian Dance (Thistles and Lily Plants)

II. Waltz of the Flowers (Frost Fairies & Snow Fairies)

The latest recording to surface (there are 100+) is a recording from Telarc (CD 80674) featuring Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops. Julie Spangler is the celesta soloist on “The Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy” and the Cincinnati Children’s Choir perform the singing on “Waltz of the Snowflakes”. While this is clearly marked on the CD as favorite selections it is 73+ minutes, and most of the ballet is included, allowing the use of only 1 CD. Surmising a little, the recording goal was to get it onto one CD which they managed to do and include most of it. Omitted is “Arrival of Drosselmeyer” from Scene 4, “Grandfather’s Dance” Scene 5, and “The Battle Between the Nutcracker & the Mouse King”, Scene 7.The Kunzel recording takes its place as one of the better ones in the market place, well recorded with Direct Stream Digital, and the advantage of having a single CD. Long considered the standard and still a worthy contender, the Dorati recording with the London Philharmonic only lacks the dynamic range of the new recording. The other Telarc recording with Mackerras and the London Symphony is the complete ballet with the advantage of being recorded in Watford Town Hall which adds warmth to the strings especially in the middle to lower range. This coupled with real cannon shots, and Mackerras being a true Tchaikovskian interpreter makes this a good one to purchase if one is interested in the complete ballet. A word of caution! There is a single 55 minute CD which should not be confused with the 2 CD set. If you are just looking for the suite there are many to choose from such as recordings from Beecham, Ormandy, Previn, and Rostropovich. The one you choose, which are all fine ones, would depend on what other coupling recording you might be interested in. Which ever way you go make sure that Nutcracker is part of your Christmas music.

Track Listing:

1. OvertureListen

ACT I

First Tableau

Listen

2. Scene 1: The Christmas Tree

Listen

3. Scene 2: March

Listen

4. Scene 3: Children’s Galop and Arrival of the Guests

Listen

5. Scene 4: Pas de deux (Doll and Toy Soldier) Tempo di Valse

Listen

6. Scene 6: Magic Spell Begins

Listen

Second Tableau

7. Scene 8: Scene in the Pine Forest (Journey through the Snow)

Listen

8. Scene 9: Waltz of the Snowflakes

Listen

ACT II

9. Scene 10: The Magic Castle

Listen

10. Scene 11: Clara and the Prince

Listen

11. Chocolate: Spanish Dance

Listen

12. Coffee: Arabian Dance

Listen

13. Tea: Chinese Dance

Listen

14. Trepak: Russian Dance

Listen

15. Dance of the Mirlitons

Listen

16. Mother Gigone and Her Little Clowns

Listen

17. Scene 13: Waltz of the Flowers

Listen

18. Dance of the Prince and the Sugar-Plum Fairy

Listen

19. Variation I: Tarantella

Listen

20. Variation II: Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy

Listen

21. Coda

Listen

22. Scene 15: Final Waltz and Apotheosis

Listen

Engineered by Michael Bishop

Produced by Robert Woods

Golden Scores Rating is ****

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