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Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
(1840-1893) The Nutcracker, Op. 71, Act 2a (1892) [43:58] Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
The Bolt
- Suite, Op. 27aa (1930/31) [14:06] Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Scènes de ballet
b (1948) [17:58]
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
rec. live aRoyal Albert Hall, London, 18 August 1987, bRoyal Festival Hall, London, 29 April 1981. ADD/aDDD

Gennady 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. 

And 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. 

Shostakovich's 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. 

Finally 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. 

This 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. 

Colin Clarke



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