- An outstanding copy of Tchaikovsky’s COMPLETE masterpiece with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on all FOUR sides
- 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 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
- If you’re a fan of brilliant showpieces such as these, this London Box Set from 1959 belongs in your collection.
- The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
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 critical 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.
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 Ballet 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.
THE SPEAKERS CORNER DECCA REISSUE
It is very unlikely we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when their remastered pressing came out, but here it is anyway.
Superb! New records just don’t sound any better! This is the complete Nutcracker Ballet as conducted by Ansermet for Decca, a record that sets a standard of performance and sound that is unlikely ever to be equaled, and almost certainly not to be surpassed.
For those of you on a budget, if you can get your hands on one of these for a reasonable price, the Heavy Vinyl reissue would not be a bad way to go. That’s assuming the copy you buy sounds at least good, similar to the one I played all those years ago, something that cannot be assumed. But it would make for a good jumping off point.
What We’re Listening For on The Nutcracker
- 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.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- 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.
Act 1, Tableau 1
The Christmas Tree
Little Galop And Entrance Of The Guests
Dance Scene – Distribution Of Presents
Scene And Grandfather’s Dance
Act 1, Tableau 1 (continued)
Scene – Guests Go – Children Retire To Bed, Magic Spell Commences
Scene – Battle Between Nutcracker And Mouse King – Nutcracker Wins Battle And Is Transformed Into Handsome Prince
Act 1, Tableau 2
Scene – Pine Forest In Winter
Waltz Of The Snowflakes
Act 2, Tableau 3
Scene – The Magic Castle
Clara And Nutcracker Appear
Divertissement; A. Chocolate (Spanish Dance)
Divertissement; B. Coffee (Arabian Dance)
Divertissement; C. Tea (Chinese Dance)
Divertissement; D. Trepak (Russian Dance)
Divertissement; E. Dance Of The Mirlitons (Reed Pipes)
Divertissement; F. Clowns Dance
Act 2, Tableau 3 (continued)
Waltz Of The Flowers
Pas De Deux
Variation 1 (Tarantelle)
Variation 2 (Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy)
Final Waltz And Apotheosis
Wikipedia on the Musical Sources and Influences of The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker is one of the composer’s most popular compositions. The music belongs to the Romantic period and contains some of his most memorable melodies, several of which are frequently used in television and film. (They are often heard in TV commercials shown during the Christmas season.) The “Trepak”, or “Russian dance”, is one of the most recognizable pieces in the ballet, along with the “Waltz of the Flowers” and “March”, as well as the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”. The composer’s reverence for Rococo and late 18th-century music (such as by Mozart and Haydn) can be detected in passages such as the Overture, the “Entrée des parents”, and “Grossvater Tanz” in act 1.
Tchaikovsky is said to have argued with a friend who wagered that the composer could not write a melody based on a one-octave scale in sequence. Tchaikovsky asked if it mattered whether the notes were in ascending or descending order and was assured it did not. This resulted in the Adagio from the Grand pas de deux, which, in the ballet, nearly always immediately follows the “Waltz of the Flowers”. A story is also told that Tchaikovsky’s sister Alexandra (9 January 1842 — 9 April 1891) had died shortly before he began composition of the ballet and that his sister’s death influenced him to compose a melancholy, descending scale melody for the adagio of the Grand Pas de Deux. However, it is more naturally perceived as a dreams-come-true theme because of another celebrated scale use, the ascending one in the Barcarolle from The Seasons.
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.) Apparently, he had first experimented with another similar instrument to the celeste, the dulcitone, but found it too soft for use within the orchestra. Tchaikovsky also uses toy instruments during the Christmas party scene. He was proud of the celesta’s effect and wanted its music performed quickly for the public, before he could be “scooped”.
The original ballet is only about 85 minutes long if performed without applause or an intermission, and therefore much shorter than either Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty, but some modern staged performances have omitted or re-ordered some of the music or inserted selections from elsewhere, thus adding to the confusion over the suites. In most of the very famous versions of the ballet, the order of the dances has been slightly re-arranged, and/or the music has been altered. For instance, the 1954 George Balanchine New York City Ballet version adds to Tchaikovsky’s score an entr’acte that the composer wrote for Act II of The Sleeping Beauty but which is now seldom played in productions of that ballet. It is used as a transition between the departure of the guests and the battle with the mice. Nearly all of the CD and LP recordings of the complete ballet present Tchaikovsky’s score exactly as he originally conceived it.