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TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker, Op. 71 – Suite from the Ballet – Philharmonia Orch./ Efrem Kurtz – Hi-Q Records

The 1958 classic Nutcracker excerpts assume a new audiophile guise in this issue from Hi-Q Records.

TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker, Op. 71 – Suite from the Ballet – Philharmonia Orch./ Efrem Kurtz – Hi-Q Records xrcd24 HIQXRCD51, 60:00 (6/24/16) [Distr. by Warner Classics] ****:

The Nutcracker – Suite From The Ballet is performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra and conducted by the well-known Russian conductor Efrem Kurtz. Kurtz had already been a familiar name with the Philharmonia to the record collector of the 1950s, and he embarked upon a series of Tchaikovsky ballet recordings with the Philharmonia Orchestra for EMI in 1958. A tall, imposing figure – he often dispensed with a podium – Efrem Kurtz had studied with Glazunov and Tcherepnin and was a pupil of Arthur Nikisch. Kurtz had a broad symphonic and operatic repertory and conducted the premieres of works by Copland, Barber, Walton, Hindemith, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, and Khachaturian. He remained most highly regarded for his interpretations of Russian music.

Of this Nutcracker in the original review in The Gramophone of November 1958, R. F. remarked: “The orchestral quality is superb, and the dynamic contrasts tremendous. If you can hear the opening pizzicato notes of the Sugar-Plum Fairy, the end of the Valse des Fleurs will have your neighbors banging on the wall in desperation.” Restored from the original Master Tapes from the Abbey Road Studios, this extended resolution CD (XRCD24) from JVC brings the listener higher fidelity and improved audio quality by enhancing the process of mastering and manufacturing compact discs.

Admittedly, the sound imaging on this reissue proves startling. The Philharmonia Orchestra of London, as we know, claimed many first-rank musicians, and their collaboration here waxes seamless. The brass parts of the Valse de fleurs could become required listening for prospective trumpet and horn players.  The Philharmonia strings intone the “magical” section of this marvelous Christmas allegory into a truly enchanted tapestry. The inspired Pas de Deux – based on a simple, descending scale pattern – achieves a suave grandeur, scored for strings, harp, and selected winds – including a stratospheric piccolo – and later brass and tympani.  After the dance of three little Marzipan Shepherdesses on reed pipes, the famed Sugar Plum Fairy has her delicate incarnation on the celesta. The Tarantella spins out a cyclonic dervish-dance. Kurtz then cuts to the final, ballroom dance set in the real world, and Clara can exult in a reality that includes Prince Charming.
—Gary Lemco

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