Many people grab a recording of the Nutcracker this time of year. So, for those giving the gift of music this Christmas, I wanted you folks to open your stockings and not see a lump of coal. No such luck, I’m afraid! I received this at the office some time ago, as a result of a request. I never did get around to listening to it let alone submitting a review. Recorded way back in 1998, it is still available at full price from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes, etc. Since I’m a sucker for Christmas and love the music, I gave it a listen.
The star team of Kirov/Gergiev/Philips bode well for superlatives in both performance and recording. Bah! Humbug! It starts well enough; Tchaikovsky’s flawless Miniature Overture light as a feather and sparkling under Gergiev’s touch. Sadly, the overture is where much of the charm ends. With speeds so hectic, Baryshnikov and Nijinsky would have a difficult time keeping up. Speed erases grace and charm throughout many of the famous scenes. Even the marvellous musicians of the Kirov cannot compete. String figures are blurred, woodwinds inaccurate. And we won’t harp too much about the intonation.
To be fair, the Kirov (now Maryinsky) has undergone a metamorphosis in the past twenty years. With the team on tour for much of the year and the recordings top sellers, the influx of money has enabled the company to grow and improve, especially under the tireless Gergiev. And to hear Gergiev with the great Western orchestras is something to behold (check out his YouTube vids with the LSO and Berlin Phil).
There are so many fantastic Nutcrackers, Bonynge, Previn, and Mackerras among them (and the best of all, but only the ‘Suite’, Rostropovich/Berlin Phil on DGG. Wow!!!), that this Philips release is an also ran. A shame, as the partnership has grown into one of the bright lights of the classical world. Maybe they will have another kick at the can someday if Gergiev could be persuaded to slow down and smell the flowers, chocolate, tea and pine forests.