Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker Suites 1 and 2 / Ansermet

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet


  • STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound for both sides of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece
  • If you have never experienced a vintage top quality pressing of a Wilkinson engineered Decca Tree recording from Victoria Hall, this is your chance to hear sound that puts practically everything else to shame
  • A record like this lets you get lost in the world of its music, and what could be more important in a recording than that?
  • This is an AMAZINGLY well recorded performance of one of the most famous ballets — probably the most famous — ever committed to analog tape
  • Enchanting music and sound combine on this copy to make one seriously good Demo Disc, if what you are trying to demonstrate is how relaxed and involved vintage analog can make you feel

*NOTE: On side one, three marks make one moderate to loud pop each at the beginning, then one quarter of an inch in, and lastly one half inch into the suite.

There is certainly no shortage of Audio Spectaculars available on the site. A record such as this, so rich, natural and effortless, has distinctly different qualities that we feel are every bit as vital to the serious audiophile’s enjoyment of Tchaikovsky’s music.

Ansermet breathes life into this ballet as only he can, and the Decca engineering team led by Kenneth Wilkinson do him proud.

Other Recordings

We played Shaded Dogs by Reiner and Fiedler, both of whom opted against using the Suites as Tchaikovsky wrote them, preferring instead to create a shorter version of the complete ballet with excerpts of their own choosing.

On some copies of this album the strings are dry, lacking Tubey Magic. This is decidedly not our sound, although it can easily be heard on the hundreds of London pressings we’ve played over the years. If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange that so many moving coils have these days, you will not notice this tonality issue nearly as much as we do.

Our Dynavector 17Dx is ruler flat and quite tonally unforgiving in this regard. It makes our shootouts much easier, but brings out the flaws in all but the best pressings, exactly the job we require it to do.

This vintage London pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the Best Sides of The Nutcracker Suites Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1959
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Ansermet Is The Man

Ansermet’s performances of the two suites are hard to fault. In addition, the gorgeous hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, possibly of all time; more amazing sounding recordings were made there than any other hall known to us. There is a richness to the sound that exceeds all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least. It’s as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is of course all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass and the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

We like our recordings to have as many Live Music qualities as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use.

It’s precisely this kind of big, rich sound that makes audiophiles prize Decca-London recordings above those of virtually any other label, and here, unlike in so many areas of audio, we are fully in agreement with our fellow record lovers.

What We’re Listening For on The Nutcracker Suites

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

The Enchanting Celesta

One novelty in Tchaikovsky’s original score was the use of the celesta, a new instrument Tchaikovsky had discovered in Paris. He wanted it genuinely for the character of the Sugar Plum Fairy to characterize her because of its “heavenly sweet sound”. It appears not only in her “Dance”, but also in other passages in Act II. (However, he first wrote for the celesta in his symphonic ballad The Voyevoda the previous year.)

Tchaikovsky also uses toy instruments during the Christmas party scene. Tchaikovsky was proud of the celesta’s effect, and wanted its music performed quickly for the public, before he could be “scooped.” – Wikipedia

A Must Own Classical Record

This Orchestral Spectacular should have a place of honor in any audiophile’s Classical Collection.

Others that belong in that category can be found here.


Side One

Suite No. 1

Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy
Trepak – Russian Dance
Coffee – Arabian Dance
Tea – Chinese Dance
Dance Of The Toy Flutes
Waltz Of The Flowers

Side Two

Suite No. 2

Scene And Dance Gross-Vater (Act 1 No.5)
Pas De Deux (Act 2 No.14)
Scene No.10 And No.11 (Act 2), Chocolate Spanish Dance
Waltz, Finale And Apotheosis

Wikipedia on The Nutcracker Suites

Tchaikovsky made a selection of eight of the numbers from the ballet before the ballet’s December 1892 première, forming The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, intended for concert performance. The suite was first performed, under the composer’s direction, on 19 March 1892 at an assembly of the St. Petersburg branch of the Musical Society. The suite became instantly popular (according to Men of Music “every number had to be repeated”), but the complete ballet did not begin to achieve its great popularity until after the George Balanchine staging became a hit in New York City.

The suite became very popular on the concert stage, and was featured in Disney’s Fantasia. The Nutcracker Suite should not be mistaken for the complete ballet. The outline below represents the selection and sequence of the Nutcracker Suite culled by the composer.

I. Miniature Overture
II. Danses caractéristiques

  • a. Marche
  • b. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy [ending altered from ballet-version]
  • c. Russian Dance (Trepak)
  • d. Arabian Dance
  • e. Chinese Dance
  • f. Reed-Flutes

III. Waltz of the Flowers

Tchaikovsky also made a second suite, less well known and less frequently played, of some of the other numbers. [Ansermet has used some of the excerpts you see below and combined them with others to make his own “custom” Suite No. 2.]

  1. Act I, Tableau I: Nos. 4 & 5
  2. Act II: Adagio from the Grand Pas de Deux
  3. Act II: Introduction, Scene Dansante, and Spanish Dance
  4. Act II: Final Waltz and Apotheosis

The Nutcracker Ballet

The Nutcracker was Tchaikovsky’s last ballet. Working with a trite story in which there is no real human drama, Tchaikovsky was freed from having to worry about content, which allowed him to indulge his gift for memorable melody and ignited his imagination as an orchestrator. While the feeling of the ballet can at times seem rather shallow – a child’s Christmastime vision of the Kingdom of Sweets – the skill with which Tchaikovsky dresses up individual numbers in the most evocative orchestral colors still delights the ear.

Even where his melody is not extraordinary, Tchaikovsky’s treatment is. The main motive of the Act II pas de deux is nothing but a simple descending scale, yet the way it is harmonized and phrased, and clothed in the warmest of string colors, endows it with powerful sentiment. Tchaikovsky’s orchestration transcends the material in the overture as well; scored without cellos and basses, and with violins and violas divided into six parts, it conjures up the sound of a Classical orchestra with just a triangle and a piccolo added. A silvery, child-like, “play” overture, small in scale but full of glittering tinsel, it is just the thing for Christmas Eve.

The Nutcracker is typical of Tchaikovsky’s later music in its delicate use of the strings, which provide shimmering backdrops to many of the scenes. But it shows a literalism unusual for the composer, especially in the children’s voices in the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” and the children’s instruments for several other numbers in Act. I. The writing for standard instruments is marvelously inventive, particularly in the Act II divertissement, where chocolate is represented by a Spanish Dance, coffee by an Arabian Dance and tea by a Chinese Dance. But the most wonderful touch of all is the solo celesta in the “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy,” which so charmingly suggests the drops of water “spurting from fountains” called for in the scenario.

From liner notes