Tchaikovsky (The) Nutcracker: Experience Edition
The shift towards Tchaikovsky that Andris Nelsons has been making with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra serves to emphasise that Simon Rattle tended to sidestep the composer’s music during his long tenure there as conductor. Moreover, this recording of the complete Nutcracker ballet would seem to be Rattle’s first Tchaikovsky disc, and it is so good that you rather regret he has not ventured into this repertoire before.
One of the impressive aspects of this new two-disc set is that it is so “visual”. It conjures up in the mind’s ear the pictures of domestic Christmas bliss and petulance in the first act, and the multifarious enchantments of Confiturembourg in the Second. There is a consistent sense here that Rattle has the ballet’s scenario and its detail firmly in view, so that the children’s fluctuating emotions of wonderment, vexation and disappointment are clearly etched in, the appearance of Drosselmayer evoking that equivocal feeling of awe, glee and suspicion, the battle engaged with gusto.
It is the first act of The Nutcracker that has the most dramatic cohesion. The second act is more of a hotchpotch in the scheme that Tchaikovsky had to follow but he responded with winning numbers that Rattle and the BPO relish, bringing virility to the “Trepak”, a lovely liquid sound to the “Dance of the Reed Pipes” and a radiant bloom to the “Waltz of the Flowers”.
The Berlin Philharmonic’s clarity and definition are immaculate. So, too, are the shadings of colour, crucial in a score where Tchaikovsky chose his instrumental timbres with such precision. When he broadens out in quasi-symphonic vein, as, for example, in the transformation scene at the end of Act 1, the Berlin sound is sensational.
For all the snags that Tchaikovsky encountered while writing The Nutcracker, it has become a perennial favourite, and this magnificent recording underlines its magical and musical magnetism.