Berlin Phil's Nutcracker lacks drama

The ever slick Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Simon Rattle give a polished but dry performance of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker

Composer: Tchaikovsky
Repertoire: The Nutcracker 
Artists: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Rattle
Rating: 3/5 
Genre: Orchestral
Label: EMI 631 6212

The Music After a long period of decline, classical ballet was given a much-needed shot in the arm (or perhaps that should be ‘foot’) by Tchaikovsky’s three masterpieces Swan Lake (1877), Sleeping Beauty (1890) and The Nutcracker (1892). The latter is based on a Christmas story by ETA Hoffmann, and is still a family yuletide favourite. 

The Performance There are certain things one can take for granted with a Berlin Phil recording. The silky sheen of the upper strings, the accuracy of the ensemble playing, the variety of tonal colours in the woodwind, the now-mellow-now-blazing brass playing - and they’re all here on this highly enjoyable performance. But, as Simon Rattle admits in his programme note, he wasn’t always a Tchaikovsky fan (this is his first recording of the composer, in fact) and it shows in a certain lack of darkness and drama. 

The Verdict This is a polished and in many ways impressive version which still doesn’t quite get beneath the surface of the score. For more depth and mystery, try Gergiev’s account with the Kirov Orchestra (Philips 462 1142). 

Want More? There’s a bargain set of all three ballets from the much-underrated Richard Bonynge with the National Philharmonic on Decca 460 4112.