Christmas wouldn’t be the same without The
; one of Tchaikovsky’s most spontaneous, heart-catching
creations, it seldom fails to please. Alas, that’s more than I
can say for Neeme Järvi’s Bergen Swan Lake
I criticised him for being both brisk and brusque, qualities that one
really doesn’t look for in that supple, endlessly inventive score;
seek out Ernest Ansermet, André Previn and Charles Dutoit if you want
to hear how it should be done. That triumvirate also rules in The
, although the Previn/LSO version – like the others
in his EMI/Warner Tchaikovsky ballet series - sounds rather fatiguing.
I gather there are high-res re-masters of his Swan Lake
which I hope to track down and review at some point.
The Ansermet, which has resurfaced on the budget Major Classics label,
certainly doesn’t sound too good in that incarnation; that said,
his performance brims with all the imagination and flair one expects
from a true man of the theatre (review
If you want irrepressible high spirits and superb sound the Sir Charles
Mackerras/LSO version – used as the soundtrack for Carroll Ballard’s
1986 film – is the one to go for (Telarc). And don’t overlook
the lustrous, loving detail of Alexander Vedernikov and his Bolshoi
band on a PentaTone SACD; it wasn’t a reading I warmed to at first,
but subsequent auditions have persuaded me of its essential virtues.
The Bergen Philharmonic are much in demand these days, and listening
to their Berlioz overtures with Sir Andrew Davis it’s not hard
to see why (review
After sampling their first Janáček disc with Edward Gardner I’m
convinced this will be a very fine partnership indeed. I can’t
say the same about their work with Järvi – this Nutcracker
completes their Tchaikovsky triptych – which doesn’t always
show them at their virtuosic and sparkling best. Those fears are confirmed
with this Nutcracker
, although I doubt anyone will complain
about the excellent sound; the Grieghallen’s dryish acoustic ensures
that fine detail is well preserved at all times.
The overture has seldom glittered so, but it’s not long before
Järvi’s odd phrasing and po-faced performance starts to drain
the music of all its magic. Could the Christmas festivities be more
dour, the dances more lifeless? The battle with the Mouse King passes
for very little and the Kingdom of the Sweets
is as alluring
as a lint-furred lemon drop. Things improve slightly in the character
dances, with the mincing Chinese and rumbustious Russian especially
well drawn. Otherwise Järvi’s Nutcracker
has little sense
of a rapt, spell-binding narrative, and that’s simply unforgivable.
It gets worse. Järvi’s Toscanini-like rigidity constrains Tchaikovsky’s
flowing rhythms, and despite some gorgeous playing the Waltz of
has a metronomic precision that’s as inimical
to the dance as a killing jar is to a butterfly. His tendency to underline
the ballet’s big moments – which are undeniably exciting
– makes the rest of this performance seem even more pallid than
it actually is. This Nutcracker
is delivered Tempo di rumty
, with little sign of empathy or affection for the score.
Indeed, it’s a measure of the unvarying dreariness of this performance
that when the dream ends and reality reasserts itself one hardly notices
the difference. That’s a crying shame, especially when the Bergen
Philharmonic play so well.
I wouldn’t want to find this in my Christmas stocking; simply dreadful.