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Mariinsky Orchestra Breathes Life into the Nutcracker

Photo by Chris Lee
A thus far exhilarating season at Carnegie Hall continued on the evening of Wednesday, October 31st, with the thrilling appearance of the superb musicians of the Mariinsky Orchestra under the brilliant direction of maestro Valery Gergiev, the first of two performances on consecutive nights. (Already there have been outstanding concerts given by the San Francisco Symphony, tenor Jonas Kaufmann with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča, and the Czech Philharmonic.)
The program was devoted entirely to the complete score of the magnificent ballet,The Nutcracker,by the incomparable Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. While this ensemble has occasionally been under-rehearsed, on this occasion the artists were in absolute command of the material. Even though the enduringly popular Suite from the ballet that the composer prepared provides a more consistently ecstatic experience than the full score does, nonetheless this was a welcome opportunity to hear some of the wonderful music that is less familiar in recordings and in the concert hall—particularly from Act I—such as the turbulent “The Christmas Tree” section played immediately after the enchanting Overture and followed by the dazzling March, which was heard here at an unusually brisk tempo, a characteristic distinction of the conductor’s interpretation throughout the performance. Several less remembered passages ensued—throughout Gergiev emphasized the dramatic dimension of the music—before the act concluded with the magical Waltz of the Snowflakes (although omitting the wordless chorus), a genre of which Tchaikovsky was perhaps the supreme master.
The second act was even more glorious with most of it among the most famous music from the ballet. The most extraordinary part of the work is the collection of dances—each one a jewel—in the Divertissement, including some of the composer’s most original achievements such as the haunting “Coffee” (Arabian Dance), the delightful “Tea” (Chinese Dance), and the exquisite “Dance of the Mirlitons” closing with the transcendent Waltz of the Flowers.
The exalting Entrata from the Pas de deux that follows is probably the purest expression in the score of the composer’s intense romanticism, while another of his most astonishing creations is in this section, the ineffably charming second Variation, the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy. The evening concluded with the gorgeous Final Waltz and Apotheosis, and the musicians deservedly received a rapturous ovation from an audience filled with a countless number of their countrymen. The following evening featured Ein Heldenleben by Richard Strauss and the Piano Concerto No. 2 of Johannes Brahms featuring the renowned Nelson Freire as soloist. One looks forward to the return of these great artists.

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