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The Divertissement from Act 2 provides an extremely varied sequence of entertaining dances with no bearing on the plot. Many of these dances are heard, in a different order, in the orchestral concert-suite Tchaikovsky devised. The March, which accompanies the children’s entrance in Act 1, is deft and piquant, evoking the world of toys rather than the parade ground. For the famous Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy Tchaikovsky specially (and secretly, in case Rimsky-Korsakov or Glazunov heard of it and used it first) ordered from Paris a celesta, a relatively new instrument. A lively Russian Dance follows, then the brief but vivid Chinese Dance, originally orchestrated with strutting bassoons and shrill flute and piccolo. Forming part of a double-bill with Tchaikovsky’s last opera, Iolanta, The Nutcracker was first staged in December 1892 at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg.
Mikhail Pletnev (born 1957 in Archangelsk) is one of the outstanding pianists of his generation and a conductor in great demand. He received the gold medal in the 1978 International Tchaikovsky Competition and has subsequently made numerous recordings of music including Scarlatti, C. P. E. Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, Prokofiev and Shchedrin. In 1990 he founded the Russian National Orchestra, serving as its chief conductor until 1999.
As an arranger for piano he has transcribed—in addition to the Nutcracker Suite recorded here—suites from The Sleeping Beauty and from Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella. His transcription of seven movements from The Nutcracker (published 1978) represents a personal choice rather than adherence to the sequence familiar from Tchaikovsky’s orchestral suite. In Pletnev’s piano version the Overture from the orchestral suite is omitted, the remaining movements being March, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Tarantella (Variation 1, which follows the Pas de deux), Intermezzo (No 8 from Scene II of the ballet, with its wonderfully spacious and dignified melody), Trepak (Russian Dance, with Pletnev’s brilliant additions), Tea (Chinese Dance) and the rapturous Pas de deux (Andante maestoso) with its overwhelming climax. Only movements 1, 2, 5 and 6 are from the orchestral suite. Pletnev’s magnificent arrangement, while vividly orchestral in effect, enhances the virtuoso pianist’s repertoire in the tradition of all the greatest transcriptions.
from notes by Phillip Borg-Wheeler © 2016