PROKOFIEV Romeo and Juliet
Although Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet is not through-composed in the manner of Stravinsky, it gains in stature when heard in its entirety. Lorin Maazel’s set remains outstanding if a little chilly, the first and best of the records he made with the Cleveland Orchestra in the 1970s. Of similar vintage is André Previn’s LSO version, tugging at the emotions with freer rubato though with less in the way of tensile brilliance. These days you can acquire the complete work in multifarious dramatico-musical presentations on DVD but if anyone can prove the continuing viability of the uncut score as a concert piece, even to the extent of threatening to displace those distinguished predecessors, it has to be Valery Gergiev.
His new account stems from concerts given in London’s Barbican Centre in tandem with a revivification of the 1935 edition of the ballet, the one with the non-Shakespearean “happy ending” in which the protagonists do not die but, in line with Christian Science ethics, are released from the false reality of their material being. Or so some commentators would have us believe. Reduced LSO forces, though not the maestro himself, took part in Mark Morris’s experimental staging in the theatre next door. Hence it might be argued that the in-house label has missed a trick by not appending as bonus tracks the few significant items dropped from the score we know today.
No matter. Gergiev is in his element and not just in moments of gritty angularity or romantic excess. The lighter numbers, sometimes taken more spaciously than usual, are equally memorable. Sample if you can the maximally colourful “Dance with mandolins” (disc 2, tr 1) or the subtle shadings of the “Dance of the young girls with lilies” (disc 2, tr 25). We are reminded that Prokofiev’s ear for original instrumental combinations could be as acute as his flair for melodic invention. Only the Gavotte (disc 1, tr 18), a late addition forced out of a reluctant composer, sounds clunky: this is music Gergiev tends to overstate even in its original Classical Symphony context. Elsewhere the playing is eloquent, the timbres dark, without the coarseness some of us hear in the team’s Mahler. Applause is excluded.
With the blunting effect of the wide-but-shallow Barbican stage ameliorated somewhat by SACD formatting, the sound is thoroughly acceptable, the performance a good deal more than that. I should mention the unusually detailed booklet-notes from David Nice and Andrew Huth, enhancing the claims of a well priced issue. A winner.