Rattle has often been accused of fussiness, of letting the line drag to the point where the charm is lost. There's few works that ask for as much charm as Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, which probably causes some justified apprehension on the part of those who are looking into this disc. I can see where the albums' critics are coming from, simply because Rattle doesn't succeed in matching the sprightly balletic qualities that other great conductors have been able to pull out of the work, particularly Dorati and Bychkov. Rattle offers wonderful big sound, phenomenal first desk playing (particularly from oboist Albrecht Mayer), and EMI's sonics are top notch.
But beyond these perhaps technical details, Rattle's approach differs in many ways from the other versions I own, namely Gergiev/Kirov, Dorati/Concertgebouw, and Bychkov/Berlin, in addition to Bernstein/New York, Rostropovich/Berlin, and Lazarev/Bolshoi in the suite. Rattle takes more time than most, allowing him to uncover aspects of the score that often slip by in other conductor's hands. As alluded to earlier, Rattle is less concerned with being balletic than probably all the aforementioned version, something which is most keenly felt in such numbers as the "Overture" and "March". But even there, Rattle imparts a wistful nostalgia that holds one's attention, although I still feel that he doesn't match competition. It's in the numbers that ask for more than amusement where Rattle really finds his place. After hearing his version of "The Waltz of the Snowflakes", "The Arabian Dance", "The Waltz of the Flowers", and "Pas de Deux", my other versions seem dull in comparison. Rattle finds an inner beauty in these numbers that is breathtaking. "Pas de Deux" eerily prophesies of what was to come in the "Pathetique", making for a highly logical, yet unfamiliar perspective.
When it's all said and done, it's the beauty of the Berliners' tone that makes this disc extra special. Rattle uses his orchestra as a vehicle to display a vast palate of gorgeous colors, making for very festive music. Those wanting a Nutcracker to keep them on the go will meet certain disappointment, but for those who are willing to take the time, this new Rattle version is one of the best.