Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker, Selections (SACD review)

Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. Telarc SACD-60674.

The title of this disc says that it contains "favorite selections," which is probably true but implies that it is like a suite or something. It's not. At 73 minutes, the disc contains about 85% of Tchaikovsky's complete ballet score. It actually leaves out only two of twenty-two scenes, numbers five and seven, and preserves all of Act II intact. That's pretty good measure, if you ask me.

Kunzel seems to run hot and cold, sometimes producing invigorating readings, other times not so energetic. These Nutcracker selections are mostly in the invigorating category, although there are times when the conductor seems positively leaden, he's so foursquare. Fortunately, the big scenes come off well, with plenty of pizzazz.

I wish I could say the same for the sound on this SACD, but it, too, runs slightly hot and cold. On the hot side, the SACD stereo layer can be enormously dynamic, so much so that you may find yourself turning the volume up and down and few notches. The bass has plenty of punch as well, sometimes enough to knock you back on your couch. Moreover, the stereo spread is wide and orchestral depth is moderate. On the cold side, the midrange is not quite so transparent as it could be, and the treble seems a bit recessed. These characteristics are most noticeable upon direct comparison to other recordings, in my case to those of Andre Previn (EMI) and Antal Dorati (Philips), both of whose recordings show more sparkle, if not more thrust.

Incidentally, this is a hybrid disc with three versions of the program on it:  one in regular stereo, one in SACD stereo, and one in SACD multichannel. Accordingly, I also listened to a few minutes of the regular two-channel CD stereo layer, and it seemed very marginally less dynamic to me. I believe that is as it should be.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa