Just in time to bell off the start of the coming holiday season this winter, arrives this complete two-disc set of the Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Ballet music. You can get it plain, as it were - two discs, mostly the music - or you can get it fancy, all dolled up in book presentation, styled in a high manner worthy of gift giving to people of all ages. Of course, this reading being so good, you just might want you add yourself to any gift giving lists that are already shaping up in your holiday imagination.
Bottom line, this set goes right to my keeper shelf. It will sit nicely, right next to the older Antal Dorati readings (one in SACD with the LSO, the other in red book PCM with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra), plus the newer SACD set from Bolshoi under Vedernikov. Each of those sets was good enough to savor and savor again; this reading meets those high precedents.
Rattle gives the Berliners their head, and each department of the band is simply excellent, in the warmest, most congenial way. If you want your Nutcracker music to engender a smile, above all, then this is a set you simply must consider. Tempos are mainstream, yet often relaxed; matched to equally flexible, relaxed phrasing that seems to sing the whole varied drama of this story into vivid, colorful, imaginative being. Nor do Rattle and Berlin stint on the sparkle needed to make this a glittering night at the (typically, holiday season) ballet, indeed. So, be sure: This set has plenty of sparkle. Oodles of sparkle. Even the mood changing music that shifts us from one scene's focus to another is abundantly theatrical, not a boring note in the whole business.
Along the way, innumerable soloists in the band get to show off, in high technical manners always dedicated to the composer and the dance scenario. Not a bum notion among the lot of them, all bright, brilliant, warm, and breathing the charm of this narrative in and out, so easy that you think the Berliner's could probably do all of Tchaikovsky in their sleep without a hitch. No matter how strongly their sense of fluency strikes you, however, nobody is at all disengaged or asleep.
When the dream world mists and shadows roll in, beneath a decorated tree grown a hundred miles high, ... when the mice go to war with the Nutcracker, ... when the snowflakes waltz, ... first note to last, this performance charms and warms, so ease-full, so natural as to dispel for a time all other memories of other holiday nights in past seasons. In this reading above all, Rattle seems finally, utterly at home at the head of this most famous global orchestra. Their musical partnership has jelled, is finally really melding. Eminently recommendable.