Home listening: from Judith Weir to an all-Russian Nutcracker

The Hebrides Ensemble and Ailish Tynan revel in Weir’s chamber works, while Vladimir Jurowski conducts a thrilling live Nutcracker in Moscow

• Sing along with Once in Royal David’s City, or take your ears elsewhere. Judith Weir’s exquisite Airs from Another Planet: Chamber Music and Songs (Delphian), with the Hebrides Ensemble and soprano Ailish Tynan, goes extraterrestrial, which is surely far enough. The title piece, from 1986, is subtitled “Traditional music from outer space”, while the vivid, sensuous songs, Nuits d’Afrique (2015) – sharing the same scoring, of soprano, flute, cello and piano, as Ravel’s Chansons madécasses – take us to another continent. O Viridissima invites us back to the 12th century, and the music of Hildegard of Bingen, here reimagined for small instrumental ensemble. Weir, versatile in so many styles, has an exceptional gift for chamber music. The Hebrides Ensemble and Tynan are joyful and dedicated interpreters.

• Never accuse this column of bah humbug. Let’s end the year with make-believe and magic, via one of the world’s most beloved ballet scores: Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. If you’re capable of resisting the great set pieces – the urgent build-up to the magic spell at the start, the delicate Waltz of the Snowflakes, the rippling harps, soaring cellos and throbbing brass of the climactic pas de deux, not to mention the show-off “divertimenti” and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – you must tell me how. I succumb from the opening notes. For the authentic Russian sound, at once warm and raw, turn to Vladimir Jurowski and the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia Evgeny Svetlanov. Their Nutcracker (Pentatone), recorded at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, certainly has the rough edges and whoops moments of a live performance. Yet there’s no one better at handling the storytelling and dramatic architecture than Jurowski. Energy, colour, fantasy, bravura win out in this festive masterpiece. Get on your dancing shoes.

Vladimir Jurowski.
Vladimir Jurowski. Photograph: Drew Kelley

• Another great Russian masterpiece, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, in a Royal Ballet production directed by BalletBoyz Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, screens on BBC Two on Boxing Day. And on BBC One, also on Boxing Day, don’t miss Michael Morpurgo’s Mimi and the Mountain Dragon, a Snowman-style animation with a new score by UK film composer supreme, Rachel Portman.


Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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