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CD Review

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

The Nutcracker

Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra/Antal Doráti
Originally Mercury Recordings
Opus Kura OPK7070 Mono
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I've never seen the complete Nutcracker shoved on one disc before, but here it is. Opus Kura has lovingly restored this 1953 performance to be fully worthy of your attention. Here, in his first of three recordings of the work, Doráti shows off his complete mastery of the idiom. Each of his two stereo takes is legendary, and this monophonic account is pure gold to collectors of historic performances.

If there was one area in which Doráti was universally admired, it has to have been ballet. Whether conducting Stravinsky, Copland, or Tchaikovsky, Doráti had a unique ability to balance sheer excitement and the spirit of the dance. Ensemble didn't seem to matter, either. In places diverse as Amsterdam and Detroit, the conductor was able to communicate his artistic vision to his charges. His work in Minneapolis arguably finds him with one of the less tonally alluring orchestras in his career, but so convincing is the end result that you really don't mind. In other words, although this disc fails to surpass the technical sheen of Doráti's stereo Nutcrackers in London or at the Concertgebouw, it stands as a remarkable achievement all the same.

For comparisons' sake, this disc most resembles the London set – also released on Mercury and more easily obtained in general – for the intensity and power on display. Again, none of the balletic qualities are ever lost, but there is a real incisiveness that is very appealing. Not everything is as fast as you would expect; some sections are notably slower than in the stereo versions. The Concertgebouw reading probably remains the favorite for general listening, the while the London set clearly evolves from the vision on this present disc. Dancers and newcomers will admittedly favor the later readings for increased clarity and sheer beauty, but admirers of the conductor and the composer's many fans need to hear this for the special qualities it holds. A fine tribute to a tremendous artist, even if Opus Kura's notes and packaging are typically so-so.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman