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Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker Suite: Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn: Nutcracker Suite / Harmonie Ensemble, New York

Album Summary

>Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich : Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a
>Ellington, Duke : Nutcracker Suite, for jazz band
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composers

Notes & Reviews:

On this recording, Steven Richman and his Harmonie Ensemble/New York swing in the holiday season with a twist, pairing Tchaikovsky's original 1892 Nutcracker Suite with a 1960 jazz adaptation by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. The idea for combining the two Nutcrackers came about when trombonist Art Baron, who had played with Duke Ellington, introduced Steven Richman to a 1960 recording of the Nutcracker Suite in Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's superb jazz arrangement. Richman loved it, and immediately decided he had to perform it side-by-side with Tchaikovsky's original. This is the first time that the Ellington-Strayhorn Nutcracker has been recorded in over fifty years, and Richman's fascinating and entertaining holiday pairing is the perfect follow-up to his critically praised album Gershwin By Grofé.

American Record Guide, January/February 2014
The performance is solid. It's a superb recording, and the drier acoustics work well for it. The soloists (especially the pianist) are top-notch, full of personality, and all the musicians do a bangup job. The reworking itself has aged well and sounds refreshing; the tunes generally translate convincingly. If the concept appeals to you, I think you'll be happy with this performance.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Avatar Studios, New York City (09/2010); Mary Flagler Cary Hall, DiMenna Center for Classical Mu (09/2010); Avatar Studios, New York City (11/2011-12/2011); Mary Flagler Cary Hall, DiMenna Center for Classical Mu (11/2011-12/2011).

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington devoted major efforts over the last three decades of his life to pieces that were, if not entirely "classical" in inspiration, at least composed upon the canvas of Western concert music. The setting of the Nutcracker Suite that he composed with Billy Strayhorn has been among the most popular of these efforts, but it, like the Duke's other concert works, remains somewhat underappreciated. It is a bit startling that, as conductor Steven Richman observes in his booklet notes, that the Ellington/Strayhorn Nutcracker has apparently never until now been paired with the Tchaikovsky version on a single album. Doing so pays a lot of dividends, even if the Tchaikovsky suite, played by New York's Harmonie Ensemble, is extremely unorthodox. The group is small and plays the work in a boxlike small hall; they get the notes, but the century's worth of familiar phrasing that has accumulated over a century and a quarter of glittering symphony orchestra versions is largely absent. But it is fascinating hearing these two works side by side, and the juxtaposition brings out how entirely original the Ellington/Strayhorn arrangement is. Even the packaging proclaims that Richman and the Harmonie Ensemble are reviving the art of "swinging the classics" here, but that's not quite what Ellington and Strayhorn were up to. Tchaikovsky's addictive tunes do not appear in the jazz version in the way that Bach's do in, for example, the Modern Jazz Quartet's Bach recordings. Instead, Ellington and Strayhorn dissect Tchaikovsky's orchestration and refract it through jazz layers. (Compare the "Peanut Brittle Brigade" march with its Tchaikovskian original for a taste, and a fresh appreciation that Richman makes possible here.) Ellington and Strayhorn provide less a jazz version of Tchaikovsky than a jazz-cubist version, and this release provides an invaluable handbook to its understanding. ~ James Manheim


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Works Details

>Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich : Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a
  • Conductor: Steven Richman
  • Ensemble: Harmonie Ensemble New York
  • Running Time: 21 min. sec.
  • Period Time: Romantic
  • Written: 1892

>Ellington, Duke : Nutcracker Suite, for jazz band
  • Performers: Art Baron (Trombone); Steve Bernstein (Trumpet); George Cables (Piano); Bill Easley (Clarinet); Curtis Fowlkes (Trombone); Wayne Goodman (Trombone); Mark Gross; Ron Jannelli (Bassoon); Bobby Lavell; Victor Lewis (Drums); Bob Millikan (Trumpet); Scott Robinson (Bamboo Flute); Scott Robinson (Clarinet); Lew Soloff (Trumpet); Lew Tabackin
  • Running Time: 29 min. 47 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern