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.