Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Symphony No. 4 - Gergiev

Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Symphony No. 4 - Gergiev

Mariinsky  MAR0593 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Symphony No. 4

Mariinsky Orchestra
Valery Gergiev

On the 18th December, 1892 at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, The Nutcracker was first introduced to the world. Now, almost 125 years since that opening night and from the very same hall, the Mariinsky’s current Artistic Director, Valery Gergiev, reveals only his second recording of Tchaikovsky’s ballet masterpiece. A perfectly judged realisation of one of classical music’s most cherished works.

Gergiev is an expert in Tchaikovsky’s music and his interpretations of The Nutcracker are among the most celebrated: ‘Gergiev takes us back to that first light of inspiration, and his orchestra plays as if guided by the composer’s own hand.’

Tchaikovsky was a pioneer, his music a new style that combined developments of the Western European musical tradition while remaining distinctively Russian. From an early age he had relished stage works involving magic or fantasy such as Weber’s Der Freischütz and Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and after seeing Adolphe Adam’s Giselle he became a ballet devotee.

Based upon E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale of a young girl’s magical Christmas Eve, as a whole The Nutcracker was poorly received at first. But Tchaikovsky’s spellbinding score proved simply too good to lose and The Nutcracker has become an essential part of festive celebrations the world over. Adored for pieces like The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and The Waltz of the Flowers, it contains some of Tchaikovsky’s most popular work and is perhaps the most famous ballet music ever written.

Closing the album is Tchaikovsky’s powerfully emotional Fourth Symphony. As the composer wrote, it is ‘patterned after Beethoven’s Fifth’ and is well known for its theme of ‘fate’, announced by the ominous recurring fanfare that holds the unique symphonic form together.

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Comments (13)

Comment by hiredfox - November 14, 2016 (1 of 13)

However you look at it this is an outstanding recording from the Mariinsky label and a superb bargain to boot, two full length major works of the Russian master for the price of one. Simply put - in stereo - this has to be one of the finest and most realistic sound recordings ever to appear on disc in any format and irrespective of label. Hats off to Vladimir Ryabenko who recorded, edited and produced this outstanding disc.

His recording is rich in the finest of detail without impairment to sound-stage width, depth or precision whilst the dynamic scale is hugely realistic from hushed passages to deafening climaxes. Astonishingly Ryabenko almost uncannily has captured the sound and feel of a pit orchestra, you are there in the Mariinsky Theatre, in the best seats of the house. The Battle scene of Act 1 deserves a health warning for those who value their hearing and good relationships with neighbours - you have been warned! It is recordings such as this that make this hobby worth every second devoted to it.

Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky players are in scintillating form, they reveal a freshness to Nutcracker that genuinely intrigues. The performance has a blissful, exuberant and carefree quality which cannot fail to captivate. Every scene becomes a foot tapping tour-de-force delight of impeccable musicianship that is beyond reproach. By far the best Nutcracker on SACD. Bravo indeed!

Of course it is hard to innovate with Tchaikovsky's 4th these days as so many superlative performances have been captured on disc and more recently in SACD and Highlights for me have been Gatti, Pletnev & Fischer but heck this is Valery Gergiev and he is up for a challenge and in the mood to pull rabbits from hats. He teases with a langorous and restrained opening that has one puzzling a little before more familiar territory is revealed. This is a high octane, emotionally charged performance never more so than the build up of the fateful scene but one that also reveals incredible sensitivity of detailing and phrasing through outstanding contributions from woodwind and brass. This newcomer is certainly in the forefront of the finest 4th's on disc whether or not it surpasses the aforementioned front runners is down to a matter of taste. Coupled as it is with such an excellent Nutcracker it really becomes of a no-brainer.

Bargains like this are rare so take it whilst it is on offer. The disc is getting plenty of airings on UK radio channels so it is likely to be a huge success commercially and a likely award winner.

Comment by hiredfox - November 15, 2016 (2 of 13)

This from the maestro. Dare I say I am not sure he is right about mystical elements being scary for children, is it not more about children's imagination in bringing their toys to life so joyous not threatening. Trying to link Nutcracker with The Fate Symphony through so called mystical elements is stretching things a bit too far for me.


This explanation from the Master may help those not entirely familiar with the programmatic nature of the 4th;

[In this extract from a letter to Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky outlines the programme of his Symphony No 4 (1878).

The introduction is the seed of the whole symphony, beyond question the main idea. This is Fate, the fatal force which prevents our hopes of happiness from being realized…..One must submit to it and to futile yearnings. The gloomy, despairing feeling grows stronger and more burning. Would it not be better to turn away from reality and plunge into dreams? O, joy! At last a sweet and tender vision appears. Some bright, gracious human form passes and beckons somewhere….. Little by little, dreams have completely enveloped the soul. All that was gloomy, joyless is forgotten. It is here, it is here, happiness! No! These were dreams, and Fate awakens us harshly. Thus, life is a perpetual alternation between grim reality and transient dreams and reveries of happiness. There is no haven. Drift upon that sea until it engulfs and submerges you in its depths.

The second movement of the symphony expresses another phase of depression. This is the melancholy feeling which comes in the evening when one sits alone, tired from work, having picked up a book but let it fall from one’s hands. A whole host of memories appears. And one is sad because so much is gone, past, and it is pleasant to remember one’s youth…..There were happy moments when young blood pulsed and life was good. There were gloomy moments, too, irreplaceable losses. All that is indeed somewhere far off. And it is sad and somehow sweet to bury oneself in the past.

The third movement does not express any definite sensations. It consists of capricious arabesques, elusive apparitions that pass through the imagination when one has drunk a little wine and feels the first stage of intoxication. The soul is neither merry nor gloomy. One is thinking of nothing; the imagination is liberated, and for some reason sets off painting strange pictures. Among them one remembers the picture of a roistering peasant and street song. Then somewhere in the distance a military parade passes. These are completely disconnected images, like those which flit through one’s head as one is falling asleep. They have nothing to do with reality; they are strange, wild and incoherent.

Fourth movement. If you find no cause for joy within yourself, look for it in others. Go to the people…..A picture of festive popular rejoicing. Scarcely has one forgotten oneself and been carried away at the sight of someone else’s pleasure than indefatigable Fate returns again and reminds you of yourself. But others pay no heed to you. They do not even turn round, they do not glance at you and do not notice how lonely and gloomy you are. Oh, how gay they are! How lucky they are that all their feelings are simple and spontaneous. Reproach yourself and do not say that all the world is sad. Simple but strong joys do exist. Rejoice in other’s rejoicing. To live is still bearable.

From a letter by Peter Tchaikovsky to Nadezhda von Meck. Quoted in John Warrack, Tchaikovsky, Hamish Hamilton, 1973, pp. 134-136. ]

Comment by john hunter - November 15, 2016 (3 of 13)

Well foxy, you have done it again. With comments like this, how could I resist.

Comment by Waveform - November 21, 2016 (4 of 13)

Guys, I have stopped to buy the albums of Gergiev because he supports the politics of President Putin. Personally I think that we should boycott these releases. For example this "The Nutcracker" looks pretty great but I just cannot order it. I cannot listen to it without vexed mood. Instead of this I'm going to buy the Järvi/Chandos or Vedernikov/PENTATONE alternatives. Cheers...

PS. I will keep the Gergiev SACDs of my current library, nonetheless.

Comment by Stephen Wright - November 25, 2016 (5 of 13)

"Guys, I have stopped to buy the albums of Gergiev because he supports the politics of President Putin. Personally I think that we should boycott these releases."

What politics of President Vladimir Putin do you not support?

Comment by Waveform - November 26, 2016 (6 of 13)

Well Stephen, it is quite complicated thing. I cannot accept his activities in Ukraine, for example. As we know the crisis of Crimea has been horrible. For me it has been very annoying to listen to the recordings of maestro Gergiev after that. And his close relationship with the President has greatly irritated me. I know that these things should not affect to my choices. Gergiev is a great conductor but I just cannot understand his ways to act.

And have you noticed the following thing? He (Gergiev) records the music of the Russian composers almost exclusively. Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, Shchedrin, Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich etc. It looks like that it is such a difficult thing to choose the works of the other composers for him. Sorry about that but I am quite surprised - and non-positive manner.

Comment by [Current93] - November 26, 2016 (7 of 13)

Luukas wrote: He (Gergiev) records the music of the Russian composers almost exclusively."

Gergiev's recent discs were Bruckner 4 and Mahler 2 with Munchner Philharmoniker and latest LSO release contains Bartok Piano Concerto No.3 with Brofman.

Comment by Stephen Wright - November 26, 2016 (8 of 13)

Thanks. Crimea and Little Russia's relationship with Russia (and President Putin) are too ambiguous and complex for me to hold a valid opinion.

I'm glad Gergiev is a Russia specialist -- that's much preferred to a reliably mediocre generalist (references not available upon request).

One of my favorite Gergiev performances is his Mahler 8th on LSO Live -- fervent and gloriously chaotic.

Comment by john hunter - November 26, 2016 (9 of 13)

Have sympathies with Lukas. Putin's policies in Syria are dreadful.
However you have to draw the line somewhere and at least Gergiev is doing something much better!!!.
Wagner anybody?

Comment by hiredfox - December 2, 2016 (10 of 13)

Valery Gergiev has performed an excellent Berlioz survey with the LSO recorded and released in SACD on LSO Live.

Sadly his performance of Prokofiev's War Symphony due to be performed at the Barbican with the LSO on Tuesday and Wednesday of this current week were cancelled at short notice due to his own indisposition through a knee operation not going fully to plan. At least our tickets were exchanged for his next performance here in March.

I rather suspect that Maestro Gergiev is a wily old bear and rather more than a camp follower as his relationship with Russia's President has spawned a renaissance of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, a new concert hall and all the wonderful music that emanates from there and more than ably recorded by a Russian team trained in the art by Classic Sounds. Seems to me Maestro Gergiev is a rather exceptional person who knows what he wants and has the political skills to achieve his aims. Certainly no puppet on that measure. Hard to see how all of that has benefitted the Russian President to the same extent.

Comment by john hunter - December 12, 2016 (11 of 13)

Quite right, a superb performance and recording.
One problem however.
At about 6.22 into the last movement of the Symphony( 11), two strange and loud noises.
Not Gergiev I'm sure but a mastering problem?
Any ideas ??.
Do I have duff second disc?
(I listen to the MC track)

Comment by Graham Williams - December 13, 2016 (12 of 13)

John (Hunter)

I returned my copy of this set to LSOLive/Mariinsky early in November as I noted two faults that, for MC listeners, makes the Tchaik. 4 unlistenable. ( Stereo only listeners will have no problems ).
Track 8. At 17'11" the sound suddenly becomes louder from the right hand channel. The effect is of the volume control being increased for just that channel. It only lasts for a second but is quite disturbing.
Track 11. At 6'21 - 6'23" there are two loud noises (electronic?) from the left hand channel.

On November 19 I received this email from them.

"We’re currently in conversation with the Mariinsky production team on this. They’re correcting the master and we will be repressing the discs ASAP."

Hopes this helps.

Comment by john hunter - December 14, 2016 (13 of 13)

Thanks Graham. I wasn't hearing things after all.