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The Nutcracker and 1 (Book and CD)

Alexandra Dariescu (piano)
Lindsey Russell (narrator)
Jessica Duchen (story)

It’s an attractive package – a slim CD-sized book, perfect for small hands, with a slot for the CD inside the front cover. The idea of a narrated account of the Nutcracker story with piano transcriptions of the music is interesting too.

The young reader can follow the story in the attractively illustrated (by whom?)  book as she – or let’s hope he – listens to the CD. My children used to love following stories as they were narrated and I think it helped them with reading skills. I shall happily pass this CD and book on to my seven year old granddaughter, who already loves ballet, when I’ve finished with it.

Dariescu plays the transcriptions (by various people) beautifully and some of them require terrific technical skill with contrary rhythms across the keyboard. She also ensures that we hear a lot of colourful left hand work – melodic lines which are often lost in the orchestral texture. The musical interludes are quite long too so that it’s free to be narratively expressive and it feels respectful rather than in any way dumbed down.

Duchen’s story presents Clara as an ambitious child pianist who goes on an adventure with her Nutcracker-turned-Prince. He shows her that she can, with work and determination, be a virtuoso. He teaches her to believe in herself by taking her through doors to exotic countries to hear music and watch dance. Drosselmeyer has gone. The mice are more realistically saurine than the baddies they’re usually portrayed as.  It’s ingenious and attractive with some really pleasing lyrical prose such as flying to the Land of Sweets “on the wings of the music” and admiring the “ornate turquoise tiling and filigree metalwork”. It’s also compelling, uplifting and affirmative – just what children need. Lindsey Russell gets the right  story telling tone too. She sounds slightly breathy, childlike and enthusiastic.

The CD is presented in 14 bands to represent the scenes – pretty much as they occur in the original although of course it’s heavily abridged. It means that you can select just one section if you wish which could be useful for parents and teachers seeking to introduce The Nutcracker by drip feed.This CD and book are a quasi preview of the stage show which Dariecu (also the artistic director and producer for this project) is touring this year. I shall be seeing and reviewing it for Lark Reviews in October.

First published by Lark Reviews:


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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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