Friday, December 20, 2013

Preview: By popular demand, the gala Sunday Classics "Nutcracker (The Whole Deal)" returns AGAIN (one last time!)

You'd want to think twice before bidding on this record. The ABC Command label tells you it's one of the inferior later pressings; you want an original gold-label issue. (Note: Unfortunately, last year's preview-opening video clip of the Nutcracker Suite segment of Walt Disney's Fantasia has disappeared -- not entirely surprisingly, I guess. To be honest, I don't like it much anyway.)

by Ken

As far back as the mind recalls, Sunday Classics has celebrated the holiday musically at last in part with music from Tchaikovsky's ballets, and two years ago I went whole hog and offered a complete Nutcracker, basically double-covered throughout, and assembled from, well, a whole bunch of recordings. I brought it back last year, and now darned if it isn't here again. And as I ventured first in 2011's Nutcracker preview, what better way could there be to "warm up" for the main event than with the composer's own Nutcracker Suite, good old Op. 71a? In the click-through we've got two quite splendid, and interestingly different, performances.


WE HAVE TWO DIFFERENTLY SPLENDID
RECORDINGS OF THE NUTCRACKER SUITE

TCHAIKOVSKY: Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a:
i. Miniature Overture



Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, William Steinberg, cond. Command, recorded c1963

Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Charles Dutoit, cond. Decca, recorded c1985

You'll note straightaway in the Miniature Overture that William Steinberg is taking a rather spritelier approach and Charles Dutoit a more buoyant, caressing one. Both the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Montreal Symphony play utterly delectably.


IN AUDIO TERMS, BOTH RECORDINGS HAVE
STERLING PEDIGREES, IN QUITE DIFFERENT STYLES


The Command recordings that Enoch Light produced with the Pittsburgh Symphony and its longtime music director Wiliam Steinberg --

done on 35mm film by engineer Robert Fine, the talented engineer of most of the legendary Mercury Living Presence recordings -- are one of the great triumphs of orchestral recording technology. (This is the dub I made from my Command LP two years [now three] ago for our "3rd annual Very Tchaikovsky Christmas." Since it doesn't have CD track points, it plays continuously; I've provided time cues below for the individual movements.)

The vivid sonic-spectacular recordings that Decca made with then-music director Charles Dutoit and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal --

this one produced by Andrew Cornall and engineered by Jimmy Lock -- have long been understandably prized by audiophiles.

TCHAIKOVSKY: Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a:
i. Miniature Overture
ii. Characteristic Dances
-- (a) March [at 3:01 in the trackless Steinberg version]
-- (b) Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy [at 5:30]
-- (c) Trepak (Russian Dance) [at 7:01]
-- (d) Coffee (Arabian Dance) [at 8:06]
-- (e) Tea (Chinese Dance) [at 11:22]
-- (f) Dance of the Reed Pipes [at 12:43]
iii. Waltz of the Flowers [at 14:59]



Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, William Steinberg, cond. Command, recorded c1963

Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Charles Dutoit, cond. Decca, recorded c1985


THE 2011-12 PREVIEWS HAD A TCHAIKOVSKY
BONUS THAT IT SEEMS CHURLISH TO OMIT!



The very same Decca CD that contains Charles Dutoit's splendid Montreal recording of the Nutcracker Suite contains a quite splendid performance of the Capriccio, another piece that represents Tchaikovsky in his unusual highest spirits. So I thought I'd throw it in here.

TCHAIKOVSKY: Capriccio italien, Op. 45


Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Charles Dutoit, cond. Decca, recorded c1985


IN THIS WEEK'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST

As noted, for the second third time in Sunday Classics history we're going to hear the whole of The Nutcracker -- in our now-hallowed panoply of stellar performances!
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