TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker (Highlights) (Gunter Appenheimer/ Ondrej Lenard/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550515)
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Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
The music of Tchaikovsky, in spite of the reservations ofcontemporaries at home and abroad, must seem to us both essentially Russian andessentially and firm I y in the West European tradition. In Vienna the critic EduardHanslick was able to complain of the "trivial Gossack cheer" of the finale ofthe Violin Concerto, but in Russia Tchaikovsky never went far enough to please theself-appointed leader of musical nationalists, Balakirev. While by no means a miniaturist,he nevertheless excelled in his mastery of the smaller forms necessary in ballet, writingmusic that displayed his remarkable gifts of melody and skill in orchestration.
Tchaikovsky was born in 1840, the son of a chief inspector ofmines in Government service in Votkinsk and educated at first at home by a belovedgoverness and later at the St. Petersburg School of Jurisprudence, in preparation for acareer in the Ministry of Justice. This he was to abandon in 1863, when he entered thenewly established St. Petersburg Conservatory, the first of its kind in Russia. Threeyears later he joined the staff of the new Conservatory in Moscow, directed by NikolayRubinstein, brother of the composer and pianist Anton Rubinstein, who had founded itscounterpart in St. Petersburg.
Tchaikovsky, abnormally sensitive and diffident, and tormentedby his own homosexuality that seemed to isolate him from the society of the time. hadalready made a considerable impression as a composer, when an unwise, face-saving marriagein 1877 brought complete nervous collapse and immediate separation from his new wife. In1878 he was able to resign from the Conservatory, thanks to the assistance of a richwidow, Nadezhda von Meck, whom he was never to meet but who offered him both financial andmoral support. After the St. Petersburg performance of his Sixth Symphony, Tchaikovskydied, it is thought by his own hand, compelled to this step by a court of honour of hisfellows from the School of Jurisprudence, after threats of exposure and scandal resultingfrom a liaison with a young nobleman. His death was widely mourned both in Russia andabroad, where his music had won considerable favour.
Tchaikovsky's ballet TheNutcracker was first performed in St. Petersburg in 1890, damned with thefaintest of praise by the Tsar, who remarked that it was "very nice". Thecomposer himself expressed dissatisfaction with his music for The Nutcracker, a subjectproposed by Marius Petipa and the Imperial Theatre Directorate in 1891 and first performedat the Maryinsky in December, 1892, again to a cool reception. The music itself, however,had already proved popular enough in a suite arranged by Tchaikovsky for a concert earlierin the year.
The story of the ballet is drawn from E.T.A. Hoffmann's tale, Der Nussknacker und der Mauserkonig. Set in theeighteenth century, initially in the house of the President of one of the German states ofthe period, the ballet opens with a children's Christmas party, at which Drosselmeyer, aslightly sinister adult, brings presents, a doll for Clara, the daughter of the house, anda toy soldier for Franz, her brother. When the children are told not to open theirpresents, Drosselmeyer quietens them by giving the two a pair of nutcrackers, promptlybroken by Franz who tries to crack the biggest nut he can find.
At night Clara creeps down to see her broken Nutcracker, and isalarmed at the open warfare that breaks out between the Mouse-king and his army and theGingerbread soldiers by the Christmas tree. With a well-aimed shoe, she routs the enemy,and is invited by the Nutcracker, now transformed into a handsome prince, to visit theKingdom of Sweets, an opportunity for welcome by the Snow-King and Snow-Queen and a seriesof character dances, including the famous Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy, with its thennovel use of the celesta, and dances celebrating Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, Chinatea, the Russian trepak, and the old woman who lived in a shoe.
Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), theoldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929. The orchestra's firstconductor was Frantiek Dyk and over the past sixty years it has worked under thedirection of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors. The orchestra has made manyrecordings for the Naxas label ranging from the ballet music of Tchaikovsky to more modernworks by composers such as Copland, Britten and Prokofiev. For Marco Polo the orchestrahas recorded works by Glazunov, Gli?¿re, Rubinstein and other late romantic composers andfilm music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachaturian.
Ondrej Lenard was born in 1942 and had his early training inBratislava, where, at the age of 17, he entered the Academy of Music and Drama, to studyunder Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964 was given with the SlovakPhilharmonic Orchestra and during his two years of military service he conducted the ArmyOrchestral Ensemble, later renewing an earlier connection with the Slovak National Opera,where he has continued to direct performances.
Lenard's work with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra inBratislava began in 1970 and in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the sametime he has travelled widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union andelsewhere as a guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as GeneralMusic Director of the Slovak National Opera recorded for Opus operas by Puccini, Gounod,Suchon and Bellini.
For Naxos Lenard has recorded symphonies and ballet music byTchaikovsky and works by Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov. For MarcoPolo he has recorded Havergal Brian's colossal Gothicsymphony to great critical acclaim in the international music press.