may have a great Fantastique in him, but this isn't
it. At first, the slow introduction suggests something special
to come. The conductor doesn't overplay the dynamics, holding
the music at the indicated piano until the pulse increases
a few minutes in; the Cleveland Orchestra maintains the soft
playing with a lovely transparent sheen. The tempo is held
on a tight rein when the theme returns, but the compulsive,
feverish effect of the accompanying flute and clarinet semiquavers
is hardly inappropriate for a programme symphony depicting
an opium dream.
same carelessness and inattention that has ruined other Maazel
recordings - the Cleveland Brahms 2 and the Vienna Sibelius
2 come to mind - sabotage this one. (It's not enough simply
to wield a virtuoso stick technique - you have to make sure
the orchestra is playing what you're conducting.) The slurry
playing of the figurations in the first-movement recapitulation
(10:02) undercuts its power. The second movement's waltz theme
is runny; there's no real weight in the tone or thrust in the
phrasing, no sense of moving towards and away from musical
destinations. Maazel uses the cornets, but he might as well
not have: recessing them in the balance this way - presumably
to avoids the mawkish dance-band effect one occasionally hears
- just muddles the textures. Tuttis are all over the
place, with important landings simply not together.
aux champs is easy on the ears, a pleasant if static
idyll. The March to the Scaffold features some marvelous
brass playing - note how the final chord stays impeccably
balanced and tonally refined as it crescendos - but
Maazel's forthright one-step sounds incongruously jaunty.
The Witches' Sabbath is reasonably alert and well-paced,
but I've heard better elsewhere - and why is the brass's
last Dies Irae allowed to obliterate the whirling
strings and woodwinds?
The Nutcracker Suite,
drawn from earlier sessions, bears out the promise unfulfilled
in the Berlioz. Maazel's buoyant phrasing brings these overfamiliar
dances to life - he shapes them in long lines and doesn't get
bogged down in the individual beats. Save for the barely audible
low flute in the Miniature Overture, and an iffy trumpet attack
at 5:24 of the Waltz of the Flowers, the playing is excellent,
with gorgeous brass chording in the March - though here the
orchestra's dexterity tempts the conductor into speed for speed's
I'd hardly recommend an SACD just for a twenty-minute filler.
For the Berlioz, you might as well wait a little longer for
Davis's LSO or Concertgebouw version (both Philips), Solti's
analog (Decca), or Karajan's mid-1970s remake (DG) to appear
so re-mastered. Or, if you don't mind good old-fashioned frontal
stereo, track down Munch's blazing Hungarian Radio account
on a Philips CD or, preferably, a Hungaroton LP. Meanwhile,
let's hope this Nutcracker reappears in tandem with
its original LP discmate - an excellent Romeo and Juliet -
or gets recycled into still another program.
Stephen Francis Vasta
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