Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Op 71

Reviewed on Mon 03 Dec, 2018

The score rarely comes alive in the way it does under Ansermet, Doráti (in Minneapolis, London or Amsterdam), Rozhdestvensky, Ozawa, Svetlanov or Rodzinski.

Prior to hearing this eminently worthy Los Angeles Philharmonic Nutcracker under the Orchestra’s current Music Director Gustavo Dudamel, I’d been listening to ‘The Best of the John Wilson Orchestra’ (Warner Classics 0190295551230, 2 CDs), sessions dating from between 2011 and 2015 (when the The Nutcracker was recorded), where Wilson’s UK-based band sounds like the LAPO circa 1950s and early 60s, urgent, uncompromisingly expressive, tight us a drum ensemble-wise, with sweetened string slides that are more or less on a par with those that, say, Felix Slatkin and Alfred Newman encouraged on those wonderful vintage recordings for Capitol. I mention this because what you hear under Dudamel is much the sort of expertly judged playing that could hail from virtually anywhere that is privileged with a first-rate orchestra, be it the UK, Central or Eastern Europe, the Far East or the Americas. It’s a fine production but with nothing to mark it out as uniquely ‘LAP’; the style fits the score but the score rarely comes alive in the way it does under Ansermet, Doráti (in Minneapolis, London or Amsterdam), Rozhdestvensky, Ozawa, Svetlanov or Rodzinski, all of whom bring a wealth of personality to this most entrancing of ballets. Best here is Act 3, Scene 3, the ‘Characteristic Dances’ in particular, the ‘Arabian Dancing’ being the most memorable track on the set. Elsewhere, magic is in conspicuously short supply, although the actual playing is excellent.
–Rob Cowan