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Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker - Complete Ballet Arranged for Solo Piano / Stewart Goodyear

Release Date: 10/09/2015
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30040 Spars Code: n/a
Composer:  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Performer:  Stewart Goodyear Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Multi Length: 1 Hours 22 Mins.

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.

Album Credits:
Recorded February 25-27, 2015 at Sono Luminus Studios in Boyce, Virginia.
Producer: Dan Merceruio
Engineer: Daniel Shores
Additional Editing: David Angell

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Photography: Fox Nutcracker Tree by Todd Shearon
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carasquillo
Piano: Steinway Model D #590904 (New York)
Piano Technician: John Veitch

As a youngster in Toronto, the pianist Stewart Goodyear loved listening to Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” over and over. Also a composer, Mr.
Read more Goodyear channeled his love for the work into his own elaborate, detailed and utterly captivating arrangement for solo piano, which he plays magnificently on this new recording. Like Liszt, a master at transcribing symphonic music for the piano, Mr. Goodyear honors Tchaikovsky’s music through his ingenious arrangement. Without its colorful orchestral enrichments, the score comes through here with stunning freshness and detail, thanks to the elegant, impressively articulate playing. The Overture has Mozartean grace, touched with suspense. Even the exotic dances during the divertissements, so associated with orchestral colorings—like the “Arabian Dance,” with its subdued writing for reedy woodwinds—sound newly magical. And, as promised, he presents the full ballet, more than 82 minutes of music.

-- Anthony Tommasini, New York Times

"Ten Fingers, One Nutcracker. Pianist Stewart Goodyear’s piano transcription of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is so high spirited and idiomatically pianistic it might make you forget about the orchestral version. OK, an exaggeration, but only a slight one. Goodyear takes on the full ballet, and the slimming down of voices and colors has the effect of making unexpected connections. An especially compelling sequence: the way he evokes the chimes of midnight, and the tree-growing music that follows — a big moment for the orchestra, but here it does not want for rapture."

-- Peter Dobrin, Philadelphia Inquirer [10/25/2015]

This may be the most delightful solo piano arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s complete ballet score you’ll encounter. Goodyear delivers Tchaikovsky’s music with a mixture of delight, charm, and sleight of hand. Even though his Steinway cannot produce all the colors of a full orchestra, he pulls you in, promising endless runs and tripping counterpoint in exchange for 82 minutes of your time. Call me a sucker, but Goodyear’s is the best lollipop I’ve been handed this year.

-- Bay Area Reporter

It’s tempting to scoff at the idea of The Nutcracker arranged for solo piano. After all, Tchaikovsky’s score is a masterpiece of melody and orchestration, and it’s easy to think that removing the latter would make for a lesser, inauthentic experience. Stewart Goodyear’s brilliant arrangement powerfully disproves this notion. So true it is to the style, nature, and spirit of the music, that not long into the performance you forget about the missing orchestra and focus instead on Tchaikovsky’s beguiling music. Indeed, you gain a new appreciation for the fecundity of Tchaikovsky’s melodic and harmonic invention in Goodyear’s exceptionally accomplished performance.

Even so, there’s a limit to what ten fingers can do, and Goodyear’s stirring Battle with the Mouse King Army does not include the military fanfares (played on trumpet in the orchestral version), and we are made to do without the ethereal sound of the children’s chorus in Dance of the Snowflakes. But overall, Goodyear’s playing is cause to marvel. He expectedly brings off the character dances with impressive finesse, but a greater test is in the dramatic passage just before the Battle scene, where Goodyear successfully delineates Tchaikovsky’s harmonically and contrapuntally complex writing to make it sound as clear and powerful as the orchestral original.

Steinway’s recording presents the piano naturally in an ideally balanced acoustic space, so nothing gets in the way of your enjoyment. Highly recommended.

Artistic Quality: 10; Sound Quality: 10
-- Victor Carr Jr. ,

"Stewart Goodyear's piano arrangement of the complete ballet is a fascinating example of the art of transcription, and the pianist deserves credit not only for his ingenious handling of Tchaikovsky's orchestration in terms of the keyboard's sonorities, but also for playing with close attention to details and tone colors that give the music its fantastic character. This Steinway & Sons recording is certainly a delight for its energy and brilliance, and fans of piano music will appreciate Goodyear's cleverness in adapting such perennial favorites as the Overture, the March, the Divertissements, and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, which are familiar as the Nutcracker Suite."

-- AllMusic Guide

"Another piece that harkens back to my formative years is Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker although my exposure, like that of so many others I’m sure, was just to the eight-movement Suite Op.71a. My introduction was on a 3-LP Seraphim set of suites from the ballets Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Efrem Kurtz. No wonder then that so many of the 24 tracks on Stewart Goodyear’s transcription for solo piano of the entire ballet (Steinway & Sons 30040) seem unfamiliar. Somehow we missed this disc, recorded in February 2015, when it came out. Since then two Christmases, the traditional Nutcracker time, have come and gone. Rather than wait another year I want to tell you about this new approach to what is indeed a timeless classic. In the words of the performer/arranger 'You can look at The Nutcracker as the Walt Disney of music. It enchants on the same levels as Disney does: there’s the humour; for some, there’s the love story; for some, adventure. All those aspects are there: it’s like listening to Technicolor, listening to animation.' You would be forgiven for thinking that Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous orchestration which incorporates so many colours into its palette might suffer in translation to a single instrument, and for that matter a single performer. But I’m here to tell you that Goodyear’s thoughtful treatment and virtuosic flamboyance give the lie to this. “I’m just trying to create as faithful an arrangement as possible” says Goodyear, “with all of the orchestral elements there – the woodwinds, the brass, so it doesn’t feel like the audience is missing anything – it’s all there.” I would have to say that he succeeds. And when I said just a single instrument, I will note that there is one exception to this: At the outset of the pitched battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King we are momentarily startled by the sharp crack of a slapstick which announces the Keystone Kops-like action sequence. All in all, this is an outstanding and exhilarating achievement and I’m sorry it took so long to come to my attention."

-- David Olds, The Whole Note

"The Toronto-born composer and pianist Stewart Goodyear admits to a long-term love affair with The Nutcracker. He transcribed the March, before deciding to tackle the complete ballet. Others have restricted themselves to the suite, among them the composer Anton Arensky and the pianist Nicolas Economou. In 1983 the latter recorded his two-piano arrangement with Martha Argerich (Deutsche Grammophon). Then there’s conductor-pianist Mikhail Pletnev’s reduction for piano solo, which dates from 1978. I had the pleasure of hearing Alexandra Dariescu play a selection from that as part of her recent all-Tchaikovsky recording for Signum.

From the well-turned Overture it’s clear that Goodyear’s Nutcracker is not only virtuosic, it’s also highly individual. One could argue, for example, that The Christmas Tree is over-decorated; the effect is not unpleasant, but the result is more Goodyear than Tchaikovsky. That said, the crisply articulated March is splendid, as is the Galop and Dance of the Parents. But despite Goodyear’s penchant for embellishment I can’t fault his pianism, which is assured and propulsive throughout. He also brings a weight to the music that’s lacking in the light, rather ‘pretty’ Argerich/Economou recording.

The Grandfather Dance is another of those sections where one is inclined to admire the musician rather than the music. It’s a niggle rather than a no-no, and it doesn’t really detract from the performance as a whole. Goodyear certainly has a feel for overall pace and dramatic thrust; he’s particularly adept at building tension, and he gives the score just enough ballast to suggest orchestral weight and amplitude. There’s an element of fantasy too, especially at the start of Clara and the Nutcracker, and that’s very welcome. Perhaps even more remarkable is the sheer consistency and coherence of this arrangement, which is generally free of flat-spots.

As a player he’s sensitive to shape and style, avoiding the self-indulgent swooning that mars Argerich and Economou’s otherwise entertaining performance. After a rousing battle Goodyear leads us into a truly wondrous account of the Transformation Scene and The Pine Forest in Winter. Indeed, for the very first time in this recording I was transported to the theatre, now firmly under the spell of this charming tale. It’s epiphanies like this that make one forget earlier caveats and criticisms; not only that, one is reminded of what an Olympian task this is, and how this pianist is able to connect with the score at these vital points.

Goodyear’s fondness for floridity may not be to everyone’s taste, but it works a treat in the lovely Waltz of the Snowflakes. At times this arrangement can seem a little too declamatory, but who could quibble with the seamless line of The Magic Castle, which is so atmospherically evoked? Even more impressive is the way that Goodyear segues so easily between sections, the Divertissement slipping in almost unnoticed. His flair for Tchaikovsky’s rhythms is undeniable, the distinctive sonorities and character of the showpieces a special delight. Indeed, the Arabian Dance is simply spell-binding. And what about the spirited Trepak and Polchinelle? Worth encores on their own.

One of two things is happening here: either Goodyear—the pianist and the arranger—is improving as the piece progresses, or I’m just getting to like the cut of his gybe. Actually, it’s probably a bit of both. That sense of involvement is helped in no small measure by the astonishing fidelity and focus of this fine recording, produced by Dan Merceruio and engineered by Daniel Shores. The Waltz of the Flowers is elegantly done—Goodyear’s trills and flourishes entirely apt in this context—and, bizarre as it may seem, his rhythmic verve suddenly made me want to hear him play Joplin.

What I miss in the Economou arrangement is a sense of excitement, of inexorable build ups, and that’s precisely what Goodyear delivers in his thrilling—and thoroughly orchestral—Intrada. As if that weren’t enough, he artfully mimics the silvery tinkle of the celesta in The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Goodyear brings the dream to an end with playing that had me in goose-bumps all over. This is another of those transfiguring moments, as much a soaring triumph for the pianist-arranger as it is for the composer himself.

Goodyear is no stranger to Olympus, having already recorded all 32 Beethoven sonatas for Marquis. For Steinway he’s tackled the Grieg Piano Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s First (STNS 30035), plus Rachmaninov’s Second and Third (STNS 30047). And going back twenty years there’s some Gershwin with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops (Telarc 80445). He’s certainly a pianist to watch, and I’d love it if he and Steinway/Sono Luminus could record some Joplin and/or Gershwin. Incidentally, the SACD, derived from the 24/192 master recordings, sounds every bit as good as this download. As for the notes, they read more like a promotional brochure than a bona-fide booklet. For once, though, that hardly seems to matter.

Stewart Goodyear is a prodigious talent and, despite minor caveats, his Nutcracker arrangement must be counted a resounding success; factor in superior sonics and this becomes a very desirable issue indeed."

-- MusicWeb International

An outstanding transcription for piano of a most beloved ballet score—it’ll have you dancing!

Few people are neutral on the subject of Christmas: most either love it or hate it. I’m one who loves it, and I find the music of Christmas to be an enormously important part of the tradition. So I was excited when this transcription for solo piano of the full Nutcracker ballet score arrived. I had enjoyed for years the DGG recording by Martha Argerich and Nicolas Economou of the Nutcracker Suite (in Economou’s piano transcription, and paired with Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances), but that contained only the highlights of Tchaikovsky’s score. This is the whole thing!…the whole story!

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840—1893) was a unique composer—and the Nutcracker is unique among his works. His father was a mining engineer and his mother was of French background. The boy was destined to be a civil servant, and indeed completed full training at the St. Petersburg School of Jurisprudence at age 19. But he enjoyed music and travel more than working, and immersed himself in the diversions. When he was denied a promotion in the civil service, he applied, at age 22, to be in the first class of the new St. Petersburg Conservatory. He studied theory and composition, piano, flute and organ. His principal teacher was Anton Rubenstein, who became a close friend. Tchaikovsky was a phenomenon: one of his earliest compositions, Characteristic Dances—pre-graduation, and since lost—was conducted by Johann Strauss.

Tchaikovsky occupied a distinctive place in Russian musical history. He was the first to fully assimilate Western European symphonic tradition—he bridged the thinking of Beethoven and Schumann with that of Glinka, and absorbed the programmatic ideas of Liszt and Berlioz, manifesting them in Shakespeare-inspired works. He was friendly with, but not a member of, the Mighty Handful, the five Russian composers (Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov) who rejected Western musical practices, including Conservatory training, in favour of a home-grown Russian foundation. Women too played interesting roles in Tchaikovsky’s life: key events included his mother’s death in 1854, his disastrous marriage (for ten weeks) at age 37, and his more positive 13-year relationship with a patroness, Nadezhda von Meck. The new Moscow Conservatory opened the year Tchaikovsky graduated from St. Petersburg, and he was offered, and accepted, a position as Professor of Music Theory. Through most of his thirties and forties, he composed in many genres, travelled to musical centres in Europe, and wrote criticism. He was invited to America when he was 51, and conducted at the inaugural concert in Carnegie Hall.

The Nutcracker’s place among Tchaikovsky’s compositions is also unique. In addition to six symphonies, important concertos, operas and popular overtures, the two other ballets—Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty—are also beloved. Tchaikovsky is among four composers (with Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms) whose music accounts for 24% of all the 10,000 pieces performed by the seven major North American orchestras over the last six years. So Tchaikovsky is popular, but in its niche, Nutcracker is even more so—accounting for 40% of the revenue for North American ballet companies over the last few years. How do we explain the success of Nutcracker? It was the last of his three ballets, indeed one of his last major works (only Symphony No. 6, and an unfinished No. 7 followed before his death in that same year of 1893). He had formed a strong relationship with the librettist Marius Petipa (who had worked with him on Sleeping Beauty). The pair was commissioned by the Imperial Theatres to prepare a double-bill program—an opera Iolanta, and the Nutcracker ballet—to be performed on the same evening.

For the ballet, Petipa selected a fantastic story that Alexandre Dumas père had adapted from E. T. A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Petipa further gave Tchaikovsky detailed instructions about the tempo and number of bars for each of the 24 sections. The result was a delight—a fantasy for, and about, children. The ballet’s debut in St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre in mid-December 1892 was preceded by the première nine months earlier of the Nutcracker Suite, with the audience demanding an encore for almost every one of the eight numbers. It took a New York staging by George Balanchine in 1954 to launch the full ballet toward its current popularity.

But this album is also a triumph for Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear. He is one of the rising stars on the world concert stage. His preparation for a career in music has been impeccable—pre-teens spent in a choir school, early teens at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, late teens at the Curtis Institute with Leon Fleischer, and then to Julliard for a Master’s Degree in Piano Performance. He just returned home from a concert in Zurich, and since we live in the same city, I had a chance to chat with him. It was a late October day, and even though we were indoors, he was dressed like another renowned Toronto pianist (Glenn Gould), in heavy coat, glove and a hat with ear-coverings down. We talked about his life of travel to performances, and of his interest, from an early age, in composing and transcribing.

I was struck by how focused and determined a young man he is. He is driven by projects. A key one grew from his earliest piano memory—listening to the Tchaikovsky and Grieg Concerti on his grandparents’ vinyl at age three. He resolved to be a pianist. Three decades later, he reached out to the Czech National Symphony and its director Stanislav Bogunia to record the two concerti with Stewart as soloist, but with no assurance of a distribution contract. That fell into place when the senior people at Steinway & Sons heard the tape, loved it, and committed to make it their first ever orchestral album, after three years of only piano solo recordings. Another project was the preparation, performance in concert, and recording of all 32 of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.

Goodyear also has a pipeline full of composition commissions: he treats each as a project. And of course there’s this monumental project to transcribe the full, rich orchestral Nutcracker score for solo piano. Counter-intuitively, he manages to reveal the melodic details and intricacies that we gloss over in the full score. And he has a performing accuracy, clarity and touch that bring the music joyously alive. I asked him what the major challenges were in transcribing—he mentioned two: 1) trying to emulate the sound of the celesta in the “Sugar-Plum Fairy Dance” (the “heavenly, sweet sound” of the new instrument Tchaikovsky had just discovered in Paris), and 2) capturing the tumult and fury in the “Battle and Transformation Scene.” He succeeds remarkably in both, and indeed in the full 80+ minutes of music.

The recording was done over three days in February 2015 at the Sono Lumino Studios in Boyce, Virginia. I wrote about this venue in my review of the Pictures album with Andrey Gugnin. It is a favorite of the people running the Steinway & Sons label, including Eric and Jon Feidner, the Executive Producers of this album. Stewart Goodyear spoke about the relaxed and familial atmosphere during the recording session: children of the technical staff were present and were consulted about whether the recording captured the playfulness of each movement.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this recording, particularly approaching the festive season and in surround, as a wonderful gift for yourself or anyone, young or old. The listening pleasure will last year-round.

-- Audiophile Audition

Most of Stewart Goodyear’s performance of his piano arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s complete The Nutcracker is so good that a listener can do little more than sit back slack-jawed at the constant stream of revelatory moments in this exceptionally well-played version of thrice-familiar music that sounds amazingly fresh and new on an outstanding Steinway & Sons SACD. There has simply never been anything like this before: pianists have essayed the Nutcracker Suite, but Goodyear offers the entire ballet, start to finish, in his own arrangement, and the engineers have managed to fit the whole 82½ minutes onto a single marvelous-sounding disc even though the medium is supposed to have an 80-minute limit to avoid quality loss. There is not a scintilla of sonic diminution here, and the performance is, plainly and simply, an utter joy. The scenic connections of the ballet come through better here than in the orchestral version, thanks to perfectly chosen tempos and an arrangement that highlights similarities that are integral to the score even as it brings out far more coloristic elements than one would expect any piano version of a brilliantly orchestrated work to do. Everyone from young would-be ballet dancers to parents oversaturated with The Nutcracker ought to hear what Goodyear does with it, and in fact this would make a marvelous ballet-school rehearsal disc if it weren’t so involving that dancers would likely keep stopping in the midst of their pliés to pay special attention to one touch of elegance or another. There are plenty of those, from the bright yet piquant March to the tremendously vivid The Presents of Drosselmeyer, from a genuinely exciting (and surprisingly dramatic) battle scene to the warm elegance of the Coffee dance. And more – much more. Every number of the ballet gets loving and lovely handling here, and when there are occasional missteps, they are mostly just ones of trying a bit too hard: Galop and Dance of the Parents is a touch too heavy-handed and clumsy; Waltz of the Snowflakes does not really capture the magic of this gorgeous number (although the piano does almost sound like a wordless chorus at the end); the start of Chocolate is a touch awkward and its rhythm slightly flaccid. But it is almost embarrassing to nitpick this arrangement and this performance, because so much in it is absolutely splendid. When Goodyear wants to cut loose, he does so with consummate skill and at a pace that is almost unbelievable: no one could possibly dance this Trepak, but listening to it and then hearing the contrast with the bouncy Dance of the Reed Pipes immediately afterwards is an experience not to be missed. Indeed, this entire recording is not to be missed: it is one of the best piano releases of the year and, even more amazingly, it is simply one of the very best versions of The Nutcracker available.

-- Infodad

Multiple award winning pianist Stewart Goodyear brings the joys and delights of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s holiday season standard The Nutcracker to his fans via his most recent release for Steinway & Sons recording label. He has arranged the complete ballet for solo piano and has done an excellent job with capturing Tchaikovsky’s orchestral color has made his arrangement just as enchanting and beautiful.

The Nutcracker: Complete Ballet for Solo Piano is over 82 minutes! It is released a single-disc hybrid SACD and will play on all CD players. This version has all of the elements, the woodwinds, the brass, the strings and brings a new palette of colors, textures and details. Goodyear starts with the “Overture” and ends with “Final Waltz and Apotheosis.” Throughout, you, dear listener, must hear what Tchaikovsky composed during those first days before the ballet’s debut in 1892.

Overall, Goodyear's solo piano arrangement of the beloved holiday classic certainly speaks to his genius and to the accessibility of Tchaikovsky’s compositional integrity.


What else is there to say but that this is a killer solo piano set of the complete holiday ballet staple? Goodyear freshens the whole thing up so that even if you think you have the definitive version already, the bar has been raised. This is the first time the entire ballet has been arranged for solo piano so you are actually hearing history in the making as well as a dandy new version. Recorded with sonic pristinity, holiday ear better get on board for a new, perennial holiday treat. Well done.

-- Midwest Record

Goodyear’s is not the only piano arrangement of the ballet out there, but is arguably the best, and the arranger plays it well indeed. If, when hearing this, you did not know that it was a transcription of an orchestral piece, you might easily assume that it was originally written for the keyboard. It’s a given that the Steinway engineers do a good job of capturing the sound of – yes – a Steinway.

-- Classical Candor - - - - - - - -

Proclaimed "a phenomenon" by the Los Angeles Times and "one of the best pianists of his generation" by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Stewart Goodyear is an accomplished young pianist as a concerto soloist, chamber musician, recitalist and composer.

In March 2015, Stewart played all 32 Beethoven sonatas in recital, in a single day, in Dallas TX.

Mr. Goodyear's recording of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto and Grieg's Piano Concerto, with the Czech National Symphony under Stanislav Bogunia, was released to critical acclaim on the Steinway and Sons label in June 2014.

For his third Steinway & Sons label release, the Canadian, by way of Toronto, pianist returns to the music of Tchaikovsky, only this time with a world premiere recording, of the complete Nutcracker ballet arranged for and recorded on solo piano.

"A high-octane performance that punches above its weight." Gramophone Magazine on Tchaikovsky & Grieg Concertos (STNS 30035)

"Exultantly phrased, expertly articulated and expansively engineered first-rate BBC Music Magazine on Rachmaninov Concertos 2 & 3."(STNS 30047) Read less