Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker - Jarvi
Chandos CHSA 5144
Classical - Orchestral
Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker
Bergen Pikekor & Bergen Guttekor
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
This is the concluding recording in Neeme Järvi’s series with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra devoted to Tchaikovsky’s three great ballets. This complete, uncut version of The Nutcracker follows The Sleeping Beauty (CHSA 5113(2)) and Swan Lake (CHSA 5124 (2)), both of which have been much awarded.
The Nutcracker draws its influences from both Hoffmann’s and Dumas’s tales of the same name, and makes delightful use of ‘le joli’, i.e. ‘the pretty’, in music – vivacious themes decked out in ingenious orchestration – already mastered by Léo Delibes in Coppélia.
The Nutcracker relates the dreams of Clara Silberhaus on Christmas Eve, aroused by the nutcracker which her mysterious godfather has given her. Then the guests’ lulling and languishing waltzes take her on a fantastic journey from a mystical snowy forest to the princely kingdom of Confiturembourg. Tchaikovsky illustrates this journey with various musical themes, such as confectionary, flowers, and Mirlitons, as well as Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian dances.
Commissioned by the director of the Imperial Theatres, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, and originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, The Nutcracker was premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in 1892. It came in a double-bill with the opera Iolanta, also commissioned by Vsevolozhsky. For this recording, Neeme Järvi and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra have re-explored Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece together, in order to offer a completely new experience of one of the most-performed ballets in musical history.
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Review by John Broggio - October 30, 2014
As with his recordings of the other two Tchaikovsky ballets (Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake - Järvi & Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty - Järvi), Neeme Järvi's account of The Nutcracker is superb. As he did in the earlier sets, Järvi's tempi are swift but never at the expense of the music. On the contrary, the added impetus is often to the music's dramatic gain.
From the opening Overture through the passionate conclusion, the sense of the drama's narrative shape is entirely natural in these hands. The Bergen Philharmonic play like gods as well and apart from the sheer tonal beauty with which they imbue this marvellous score, the subtle pointing that the "accompanying" sections make throughout are a joy to the ear and the soul. Indeed, during those numbers that also occur in the Suite, the recording that was most similar was Rostropovich's outstanding account with the Berliner Philharmoniker; this is arguably better playing and conducting. Although for a large part textures are rendered like a gossamer film, there is still a sense of weight & threat at the appropriate junctures in the score; nor is there any lack of dynamic contrast.
The percussion instruments, so crucial in this score, are all easily audible but still fit into a cohesive & coherent sound picture. In No. 5 (Scene et danse du gross-vater), a whistle is added to the trumpet fanfares but this doesn't overly distract from this listeners pleasure; also Järvi toys with the number of repeats the little string figuration gets at the end of this number, repeatedly daring the strings to ever quieter yet equally precise renditions of the phrase. At the opening of No. 6 (Scene), Järvi and his players add in the chimes of a clock - this is not part of Tchaikovsky's score but it matters little and doesn't disturb the musical momentum in the slightest. Where some might find that it does interrupt the musical narrative, is the repetition of the chimes immediately before the piu allegro section. As irritations go, it is fairly small but some may find it tiresome on repeated listening. Any such fleeting doubts are swept gloriously aside at the conclusion of this number when the climax receives what must be one of the best recorded accounts of this magical moment from both a technological & musical standpoint.
The musical difficulties of No. 7 (Scene) sound as though they were routine exercises and are shaped into thrilling passages rather than mere passage work that a superficial reading of the score would imply. Equally, if not more impressive is the care with which the cellos & basses shape their accompanying figures to No. 8, where they provide a momentum seldom heard. The waltz of the snowflakes (No. 9) is taken a shade faster than many but crucially the singers and players never sound pressed; as ever, when performed with such virtuoso skill as here, this corner glistens as few in the repertoire. Indeed, the women's & children's voices are so well blended we get the best characteristics of timbre from both. The clarity of this recording is such that the tremolando upper strings are audible at the conclusion of the number, yet this is far from being a dry recording; some achievement from all concerned.
In the celebrated Divertissement (No. 12), what becomes clear is that for all the tremendous amount of doubling (and more!), the tremendous delicacy of balances that is presented makes every number come alive in a way that eludes many accounts of a more "authentic" provenance. The Waltz of the Flowers (No. 13) is played with such elan & character that, at the time of listening, it is hard to resist getting up and dancing along to the music; a real delight from beginning to end. Fortunately, Järvi gets his Bergen players to play the great Pas de Deux (No. 14) - a favourite encore of touring orchestras - without undue sentimentality; here less is most definitely more and there is no over-the-top emoting that burns out far before the central climax. In the ensuing variations, including the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the lightness that characterises so much of this work & performance returns to magical effect and the ear is constantly delighted with fresh revelations from this well-known score.
The biggest criticisms are that:
(1) the violins were not seated antiphonally, losing some of the drama that Tchaikovsky invested in the score
(2) the orchestra is not individually listed, for all the myriad of solo(istic) contributions deserve recognition not just the select few highlighted in the booklet.
And that's about it, other than the introduction of a whistle & some bells noted above, which shouldn't really deter anyone from purchasing this wonderful set.
The notes themselves are very well written and convey both the narrative of the action but the character of the music well. The sound must count as one of Chandos' finest achievements; from the sweep of sound heard in No. 6 to the chamber-like delicacies of the Sugar Plum Fairy, there is a consistent glow married to stunningly clear sound. The dryness faithfully relayed in Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker - Vedernikov is also allied to very clear sound; most will find the sound here easier to live with for repeated hearings.
The concluding Waltz caps an exceptional account that has transported this listener back to childhood, reminiscing on the sense of wonder & delight that this marvellous score first evoked then and continues to do so now.
Copyright © 2014 John Broggio and HRAudio.net
Review by Graham Williams - October 30, 2014
With this release of 'The Nutcracker' Neeme Järvi completes his splendid accounts of the three great Tchaikovsky ballets with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra for Chandos. The qualities that made the previous releases of 'Swan Lake' Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake - Järvi and 'The Sleeping Beauty' Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty - Järvi so memorable are once again in abundance. They include polished orchestral playing from the Bergen Philharmonic and superb recorded sound from Ralph Couzens and his colleagues in the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK).
Neeme Järvi's penchant for fast tempi in much of the music he conducts has sometimes led to accusations of superficiality in his performances – a view to which I would not subscribe, so it is worth pointing out that although the complete ballet is accommodated uncut on a single SACD, his overall timing for the work is 84'35”. On the other hand Antal Dorati and the LSO on his classic Mercury Living Presence SACD release Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker - Dorati (divided between 2 discs) is dispatched in 78'52” while another very recommendable single disc version (unfortunately not available on SACD) from Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Orchestra has a playing time of 80'58”.That said, the 'Ouverture' that begins the work is taken at a fast pace, but thanks to the crisp articulation of the Bergen players it does not sound rushed. For most of what follows Järvi continues to press forward, capturing perfectly the excitement and expectation of Christmas Eve in the Silberhaus home, but gradually becoming more expansive from the departure of the guests to the end of the Act. The magical transformation scene (Tr.7) and subsequent battle with the mice (Tr.8) – the latter heralded by a more realistic gun shot than the feeble efforts heard on some other recordings – is absolutely gripping. In this Act's final Tableau the well drilled singing of the Bergen Pikekor and Bergen Guttekor gives much pleasure.
The opening of Act II, as Clara and her Prince journey to the Kingdom of Sweets, finds Järvi in more relaxed and expansive mood allowing extra time for one to appreciate both the refinement and panache of his fine orchestra. The familiar dances of the 'Divertissement are delivered with an affectionate warmth not always associated with this conductor and mention must be made of the harpist Johannes Wik, whose immaculate delivery of the harp cadenza at the opening of the 'Valse des Fleurs' (Tr.19) and artistry elsewhere delights the ear. The work's final sections are notable for the exuberance Järvi brings to them, though why he makes an unexpected and sudden brief ritardando at 2.24 in the 'Valse finale' (Tr.24) is anybody's guess.
It almost goes without saying that the open and generous acoustic of the Grighallen Bergen where the ballet was recorded last December is ideal for Tchaikovsky's marvellous orchestration to be savoured. The sound is immaculately balanced by the engineers and amazingly vivid in both 2-channel stereo and 5.0 channel surround.
Though the virtues of rival versions of this much recorded ballet should not be overlooked, the considerable advantage of Järvi's compelling performance on single hybrid SACD will make it a first choice for many listeners and it warrants an unqualified recommendation.
Copyright © 2014 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net