This Nutcracker gets off to a lumpish start. After a
run-of-the-mill Miniature Overture, the various components of
the Act I opening - the violins' melody, the violas' steady
eighth notes, and the clarinet off-beats - can't stay in sync.
The March is nicely airborne, but in the episode with the flutes,
the strings' accompanying chords tend to lag; this needed more
proactive attacks and shorter articulations. So it goes through
most of the act: lots of small flaws, none of which is an out-and-out
deal-breaker but all contributing to a cumulative sense of insecurity.
The late David Maninov seems not to have had the stick technique
to line up the details properly, leaving the Royal Philharmonic
to function more or less on its own.
Act II, where the writing is less intricately "symphonic,"
improves considerably - it's practically a different performance.
The sonorities sound altogether better organized, and the music
moves with a clearer sense of purpose, with a real incisiveness
to the attacks. Some moments of uncertainty remain: the violins
are slurry in the Trepak - though the basses in the middle
section are spanking clean. There's audible indecision in the
coda of Mother Gigogne and the Clowns: are we speeding
up or not? We aren't. But, overall, this act does much to mitigate
the negative impression left by the first.
What's sad about this is that Maninov, despite his apparent
technical shortcomings, displays a real feeling for the music.
As indicated, the March is unusually dynamic, and in the various
triple-meter sections - the waltzes, including a glamorous Valse
des fleurs, and the 6/8 Children's Galop in Act I - the
rhythms have a nice lift and "swing." In the big Pas
de deux, Maninov eschews the customary heavy-syrup approach
in favor of lighter, airier phrasing and textures, though his
shaping of the climax is heavy-handed.
Given the spotty podium guidance, the Royal Philharmonic acquits
itself well. A moment or two - note the peaks of the cello phrases
in the Pas de deux-- suggests that the strings aren't
at full symphonic strength. Still, the orchestra sounds bigger
than your average pit ensemble, and some of the sonorities,
particularly in Act II, are glamorous, enhanced by a discreet
This performance certainly has more going for it than Svetlanov's
Melodiya account, which I recently reviewed. But Maninov's insecure
first act leaves his production no challenge to the reigning
analog contenders: the Decca issues under Ansermet and Bonynge.