Saturday, October 26, 2013

In Review--Get Cracking



Classical/Jazz 
Harmonia Ensemble
Piotr Tchaikovsky/Duke Ellington
Nutcracker Suites
Harmonia Mundi


No one was thinking of swinging to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker in 1892 when the Russian composer wrote the incidental music for ballet. Yet, when you listen to the Overture, we hear hints of jazz, even if this seems preposterous or impossible.  And when Harmonia Ensemble performs the March, again, we hear the delights of jazz.  Is this a coincidence? Perhaps, since Harmonia Ensemble performs back-to-back Tchaikovsky’s late romantic era ballet along with Swing Master Duke Ellington’s 1960 Harlem ballet version.  So if you’re wondering if much was lost in the translation, let’s just say a lot more layers were added.


While this is a fabulous concept, I feel that the ensemble rushes through the classical version, which is probably why I’m thinking “swing” while I try to catch my breath.  Oh, the performance is still majestic and nostalgic, but a bit too fast for my taste.  The Russian Dance however slows the pace down and we land in the dreamy territory that the original ballet intended.  Waltz of the Flowers, the longest track is divine and I wish it lasted longer because it’s the type of music that begs to be savored, even if Tchaikovsky was depressed when he composed the ballet music.


On the Ellington side, a different group of musicians comes on board with Lew Tabackin on saxophone, Bill Easley on clarinet, George Cables on piano, Lew Soloff on trumpet and Victor Lewis on drums who bring us finger-snapping delicious rhythms that brings on a different genre of dancing.  Peanut Brittle Brigade (March), flies out of the speakers and hits me square in the head with its rambunctious trumpet.  I don’t hear the original piece in the song, unfortunately, and it feels like looking for realism in abstract art.  The effect works nonetheless.  Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance of the Sugar Plum Faeries) is recognizable even if it reminds me of a Nino Rota soundtrack for a Fellini film.  Dance of the Flowers also rings a bell, but is pure Ellington with some Tchaikovsky tossed into the mix.


It’s not even Halloween and here I am listening to The Nutcracker and it feels right at home.  Play Harmonia Ensemble’s Nutcracker Suites for pre-holiday or holiday fun.  You might get everyone in the room dancing one way or the other.









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