The Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra performed a concert version of Tschaikowsky’s Nutcracker in the Khachaturian Hall this evening under its music director Eduard Topchjan. I am told they like playing for Topchjan, and it certainly sounded like it. His technique is abrupt, but I suppose the orchestra understood what he wanted to accomplish, since this is the best I have heard them this year. The brass were once again excellent, and the strings improved – though not exactly lush, they did produce a more full sound than under other conductors.
The performance was actually not billed as a concert performance, but rather as a “literary-musical composition with complete performance of the ballet music.” This meant that they provided narration and sets, even if no one danced. The sets were odd, but harmless. An enormous ball was suspended over the orchestra, and they used some form of projection to make it appear to rotate, with scenes from the ballet seemingly painted on it like an enormous Christmas tree ornament. Behind it, a giant curtain obscured the entire back of the stage, and an artist in a booth somewhere finger-painted abstractly on a screen which was then back-projected onto the curtain. The floating abstract shapes his fingers produced added nothing, but also subtracted nothing. The bigger problem arose from the narration: actually, not the narration, per se, which was fine; but rather the language choice. The narrator told the story in Russian. However, many people brought their children, and this meant that parents (who would have had mandatory Russian classes in school back in the Soviet period) had to translate for their children while the orchestra played. That avoidable stupidity (the narrator could easily have spoken Armenian) disrupted the enjoyment of the performance, since, as noted, the orchestra sounded quite good tonight.