The Arts Journal
Date: 25 August 2012 / Venue: Usher Hall
For music which has brought joy to audiences across the globe, The Nutcracker was written amidst a good deal of heartache. When the choreographer Marius Petipa handed Tchaikovsky a thick wad of paper listing detailed instructions for his music, right down to the number of bars for each dance or scene, Tchaikovsky was horrified. Describing his first attempt to fulfil the brief, Tchaikovsky wrote that it was “colourless and dry, hasty and wretched.” It was only on learning of the death of his beloved sister, Sasha, that Tchaikovsky had the creative breakthrough which enabled him to complete the troubled commission.
One hundred and twenty years later, Tchaikovsky’s score for The Nutcracker features some of the best-known, most-loved pieces of music ever written. The ballet is performed in theatres across the globe every Christmas, while the music has taken on a life of its own, in adverts, films and even video games.
The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra gave Festival goers a rare chance to listen to Tchaikovsky’s complete score, rather than the usual excerpts, without the distraction of a haze of tutus, dancing mice, or TV adverts for Cadbury’s chocolate bars. With Catalan conductor Josep Pons making his debut with the orchestra, the BBC SSO played with a freshness and lightness of touch which breathed new life into even the most familiar movements.
Playing the celesta, Lyndra Cochrane gave us a Sugar Plum Fairy every bit as delightful as any prima ballerina while the girls of the National Youth Choir of Scotland, under chorus master Christopher Bell, added their voices to a spine-tingling Waltz of the Snowflakes.
Shorn of the visuals, the performance revealed the drama, depth and beautiful melodies of Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous music.