Saturday, December 12, 2015

CD Review: Maestro Classics "The Nutcracker"

"The Nutcracker" is as much a part of the Christmas tradition as Santa Claus, Rudolph, and Bing Crosby.  The music from the classic ballet is everywhere, and in all forms - the classical arrangements, jazzy, swingy versions, even acapella vocal takes from groups such as Straight No Chaser.  The imagery of the Nutcracker, the Mouse King, and the Sugar Plum Fairy have their rightful place in the upper echelon of our Christmastime celebrations.

Maestro Classics has released a CD version of "The Nutcracker", as performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Simon.  What do we as Christmas music lovers stand to gain from another recording of "The Nutcracker"?  As it turns out, quite a lot.

Maestro Classics specializes in producing classical music targeted at children.  Their "Stories in Music" series includes "Peter and the Wolf", "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", "The Story of Swan Lake", and nine others, now including "The Nutcracker".   Their mission statement is telling:
"To cultivate a love of music through education and  joyful performances, to expand and develop  listening skills and encourage adults and children to listen together."
What a wonderful mission, so full of heart.

"The Nutcracker" CD features narration by Jim Weiss.  As the Philharmonic performs the music of Tchaikovsky, Mr. Weiss tells the story of Clara and the Nutcracker, from the introductory scene as the party at Clara's parents unfolds, through the arrival of Herr Drosselmeyer and the presentation of his gifts, onward to the battle of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, to the Land of the Sweets and the entertainment of the dancers, concluding with Clara's awakening back in her parents' home.  

Mr. Weiss' narration is clear, bright, and animated, and is always in a partnership with the music.  A challenge is to not have either the narration overpower the music, or vice versa, to bury the narration too deep and to make it difficult to hear behind the orchestra.  This balance is well managed by the producers, making the story come to life through Mr. Weiss' storytelling.

This edition of "The Nutcracker" is an excellent resource for teachers and parents to introduce the story and music to younger children, and is also great for all to listen and become re-familiarized with the classic story.  The packaging includes a 24-page information and activity booklet, featuring a scene summary, a brief history of ballet, a biographical sketch of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, a lesson about the harp, and some fun and games for the kids!

I'm impressed at what Maestro Classics has to offer, and love their approach to bringing these works to the young generation.  If you have kids, if you're a teacher or know a teacher, I encourage you to check out their website and see what they have to offer.

Maestro Classics website
"The Nutcracker" available on Amazon

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