London Symphony Orchestra – Tchaikovsky Nutcracker/Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – Telarc Records TEL 00901 (1986)/Concord Music Group (2018) 180-gram stereo double vinyl, 82:53 ****1/2

(Featuring the London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Charles Mackerras – conductor; Tiffin Boys Choir: director – Neville Creed)

The Nutcracker may be the most cherished ballet score in history. With a libretto by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov,. the musical score by Tchaikovsky made this work soar. Even though the debut (1892) was not successful, the twenty-minute suite (eight numbers) that featured “Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairies” and “Waltz Of The Flowers’ was. Ballet companies around the world perform this iconic piece during the Christmas season. By the late 1960’s, the full score had been incorporated into the performances. Based on  E.T.A. Hoffman”s story “The Nutcracker And The Mouse King” and Alexander Dumas’ “The Story Of A Nutcracker”, the Tchaikovsky music was exemplary of the Romantic Period. One innovation was the utilization of a celeste, unheard of at that time. While shorter than Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty, its appeal transcends artistic genres and has a broader, universal familiarity. A staggering volume of recordings have been consumed by the public for more than a century.

Concord Music group has released a 180-gram double vinyl update of the soundtrack for the 1986 film, The Nutcracker : The Motion Picture. Directed by Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion, Never Cry Wolf), it featured the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and received mixed reviews. The London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Charles Mackerras provided the musical score. More importantly, this soundtrack includes the entire Tchaikovsky score. Without the visual context of the dancers, it is still possible to follow the musical storyline by the summarized notes on the back of the gatefold. Side 1 opens with “Overture” which is limited to woodwinds, horns, violins, viola and triangle. The buoyant “elfin” number has string/woodwind counterpoint with a call and response. The strings are prominent on Scene 1: Christmas Tree. A jubilant embrace of the Christmas bounty is easy to imagine. Adding a harp is a nice touch. Fans of the original “suite” will be delighted by the familiar Scene 2: March. The punctuated horn lines capture the playful innocence of a children’s marching game. Scene 3:Gallop And Arrival Of The Guests” juxtaposes a presto children’s dance against a stately adult polonaise. The introduction of the peculiar Councillor Drosselmeyer changes the mood in Scene 4 with oboe, bassoon and descending cellos. As the nutcracker toy is introduced, there are dance signatures (including a waltz) and a catchy key modulation.

Scene 6: The Magic Spell Begins reflects the gossamer solitude of night. The strings are bright, but there is an ominous tone, and then the clock strikes twelve. The strings approximate the scurrying mice. Drama continues to unfold in Scene 7: The Battle Between The Nutcracker And The Mouse King, as the orchestra furiously emulates the battle between the gingerbread men/soldiers and mice. In the next piece “Scene In The Pine Forest”, the winter trek is accented by harp and stately brass. A first waltz (Scene 9: Waltz Of The Snowflakes) is sweeping, adding a tenor boys choir who voice without words. Act II is portrayed andante in both “Scene 10: The Magic Castle” and “Scene 11: Clara And The Prince”: There are interesting counter-rhythms and castanets in #11.

Tchaikovsky Portrait

Tchaikovsky

A certain highlight of The Nutcracker is six-part dance sequence. In brief instrumental passages, the orchestra  maneuvers through a variety of dances. First up is a hypnotic Spanish bolero (“Chocolate”), evocative Arabian dance (“Coffee)”, an extremely lively Chinese dance (“Tea”), explosive Cossack dance (“Trepak”), sprightly “Dance Of The Mirlitons” (reed flutes) and raucous “Mother Gigogne & The Clowns”. Billed as a divertissement, the music is unforgettable in its brevity and execution. It seems that the final scenes are sequenced for a big finish. And…they are! “ Scene 13: Waltz Of The Flowers” is mesmerizing in its aspirational scope and regal lyricism. As the harp sets up the violin flourishes, the exquisite 3/4 time signature is rendered in symphonic elegance. It is the “heart and soul” of Romantic classical music. Equally compelling is “Scene 14; Pas De Duex”. This elegiac, haunting melody comes across like a “mini-suite”, Its sharp accents emulate the drama of Italian opera. Continuing Scene 14, “Dance Of The Prince & Sugar Plum Fairy” has a carefree suppleness, but is stirring in its denouement. A celeste is glowing with ethereal texture, as the reeds and woodwinds offer another layer to the arrangement. With instrumental coherence, “Final Waltz & Apotheosi9s brings The Nutcracker to a grandiose finale. A deleted bonus track from the Stowell/Sendek Nutcracker production is included, with a soprano and mezzo-soprano.

The overall sound quality of this recording is superior. Telarc’s stellar team of Robert Woods (producer) and Jack Renner (engineer) created a level of technical prowess that is appropriate for this iconic work. The precision of the mix is noteworthy. Smaller elements like  triangle or celeste are clear and neatly folded into the instrumentation. There is a tonal fluidity to the flutes, bassoon and oboe. The violins have a crispness and the drums fill out the lower end.  is The surface noise (generally a problem with vinyl) is minor.. With customary detail, inside liner notes are incisive, and the surreal front-cover by Maurice Sendak is weirdly compelling.           

TrackList:
Side 1: Overture; Act I/First Tableau: Scene 1: The Christmas Tree; Scene 2: March; Scene 3: Children’s Galop; Scene 4: Dance Scene & Arrival Of Drosselmeyer; Scene 5: Scene And Grandfather’s Dance

Side 2: Scene 6: The Magic Spell Begins; Scene 7: The Battle Between The Nutcracker & The Mouse King; Second Tableau/ Scene 8: Scene In The Pine Forest (Journey Through The Snow); Scene 9: Waltz Of The Snowflakes

Side 3: Scene 10: The Magic Castle; Scene 11: Clara & The Prince; Scene 12: Chocolate; Coffee; Tea; Trepak; Dance Of The Mirlitons; Mother Giggle & The Clowns

Side 4: Scene 13: Waltz Of The Flowers; Scene 14: Pas De Deux; Dance Of The Prince & The Sugar Plum Fairy; Variation I; Tarantella; Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy; Coda; Scene 15: Final Waltz & Apotheosis; Bonus Track: Duet Of Daphnis & Chloe From The Queen Of Spades (La Pique Dame)  

-Robbie Gerson