Scherchen fans of a certain age will fondly recall the Prokofiev in its original incarnation as Westminster LP WL 5091, its murky brown cover depicting a fierce, fleeing horseman pursued by turquoise-colored flying beasties. That cover illustration, this time with the pursuers in red and the background a more legible mustard, will bring on fits of nostalgia, not only for the cover art but for idiomatic performances of wondrous barbarism. The Scythian Suite, salvaged from a ballet score rejected by Diaghilev, is an early work covered with fingerprints of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Indeed, sections such as the opening of the “Night” episode sound like outtakes from that scandalous model. Imitative or not, the young composer produced a score whose relentless drive and brilliant orchestration should be heard more often. Scherchen launches into the opening orchestral splash like a wild man, gives the horn whoops of the final movement the piquant flavor they need, and is deliciously atmospheric in the aforementioned “Night”..
The beautifully played Sibelius recordings by conductor Leif Segerstam and the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra have often been revelatory, not least in the much-neglected area of the composer's theater music. Segerstam found much of interest in the composer's incidental music, the forerunner of the soundtracks Sibelius might well have written if he had lived in our time. But Scaramouche, Op. 71, composed in 1913, is something else again: it is music for a pantomime, a genre not much in evidence for today (although it certainly has affinities with the music video). The action of the mostly wordless play (there were a few spoken passages, excised in this performance) was continuous, and so, thus, was Sibelius' music. It is thus a genuine piece of dramatic music, of which there is very little in the Sibelius catalog, and for the most part it has more to do with the developmental thinking of the symphonies than it does with the incidental music scores.
A provocative and probably previously unreleased reunion of two quintessential ballet scores evocative of the Paris of before and after World War I. The Russian conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky, who stayed in his homeland but managed to remain impervious to any authoritative decrees, either political or artistic, presents this daring programme of Stravinsky's 'Petrushka' and 'The Fairy's Kiss', both with the same accuracy of interpretation, Impressive and without competition! Live recorded in Leningrad/St.Petersburg, October 24, 1964 [Petrushka], June 20,1982.
Don't be put off that this Nutcracker is played by the Utah Symphony. It is first class in every way in the glorious sound that Vanguard lavished on the orchestra.Maurice Abravanel was one of the most significant theater conducters of the 20th century. You can feel immediately that he grasps the balletic nature as well as the symphonic majesty of Tchaikovsky's score. The interpretation is brisk, light, nimble, well balanced and masterfully cohesive. Right from the beginning of the overture you will understand what I mean! The playing of the Utah Symphony is transparent, clean, and full of color. You can tell they enjoy playing it! I bought this recording years ago on Vanguard Everyman LPs. The CD transfer is excellent. Grab the it while you can still get it!
Never has a ballet recording been so phenomenal and at the same time doesn't quite meet my criteria for selecting the definitive ballet recording–that is, the quality of the recording itself aside, GENERALLY, the music also has to be performed by the orchestra that premiered it and that the orchestra has had a long tradition of playing it. Such is the case with Abravanel's 60s recording of Swan Lake.
- By Gary -
Editorial Reviews - Amazon.com
Charles Mackerras is one of the most purely musical and versatile conductors around. In fact, he's never made a bad record, and this Nutcracker is outstanding… He brings superb drama to the action sequences: the battle with the Mouse King, bustling Christmas scenes at the opening, and the "transformation" of the Christmas tree. In the second act (which is where most of the famous Suite comes from), each of the dances is sharply characterized. In short, a great performance. –David Hurwitz