Rozhdestvensky has always been a much loved guest in the UK.
His affable persona, his larger-than-life baton and his seemingly
unquenchable appetite for new music - be it literally new to
the page or new in terms of need of resurrection - and his clear
affinity with his players all mixed together to result in performances
which frequently exuded magic.
it is fairy-tale magic that is the order of the day here in
the second act of Nutcracker. This act excerpts particularly
well, given that it includes a Divertissement of six dances
(including the famous 'Danse arabe') immediately prior to the
beloved 'Dance of the flowers'. Phrasing is a dream throughout,
particularly from the strings, and makes up for the slightly
dull recording and recessed violins. Each dance is individually
characterised. Try the gossamer web of muted strings in the
'Danse arabe' and contrast that with the headlong sprint of
the 'Trepak'. True, the muddiness characteristic of the venue
can muddy detail, but the spirit is all there. I cannot in all
truth prefer this to a live performance of Act 2 I attended
in 2003 with the London Symphony Orchestra under Temirkanov at the Barbican, but there is still plenty to enjoy.
three-act ballet, The Bolt (1930/31) calls upon circus-like
antics right from its outrageous opening. Interestingly, there
is delicate string counterpoint later on before a bassoon reasserts
buffoonery in no uncertain manner. The second movement, a Polka
entitled 'The Bureaucrat', is spiky and bare (piccolo, trombone
and bassoon feature soloistically), while comedy also informs
the ensuing 'Intermezzo' - plenty of caricature here, not to
mention good-natured faux-dignity. The final 'Drayman's Dance'
returns to the outrageous.
Stravinsky's Scènes de ballet, whose acidic tones sound
almost welcoming after the Shostakovich! Rhythms are here sharply
etched, while the woodwind show much agility: 'Pantomine', for
example. What shines through most, though, is the conductor's
insatiable appetite for moments that delight or amuse; and this
is just what the Stravinsky, in particular, seems to be about.
disc is also a celebration of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The
BBCSO is probably the UK's most adaptable orchestra. It has
amazed under conductors as diverse as Günter Wand and Pierre
Boulez - with Rozhdestvensky coming somewhere in between? A
most stimulating disc.