Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet (excerpts)

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Romeo and Juliet (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 453 439-2
Abbado’s previous Romeo and Juliet selection, a vivid late-Sixties classic, presented half-an-hour’s worth of divertissement and fight sequences – though not the central love interest – in the company of numbers from the earlier ballet Chout. Now he has a fuller chance to encapsulate Prokofiev’s symphonic development of leitmotifs by blending numbers from the three suites with stretches from the complete ballet. It’s not a new idea, but no one has chosen more effectively. When Abbado reorders the sequence, he does so to achieve necessary varieties of textural density, and sometimes new dramatic irony: Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio masked for the ball, for example, follow mocking behind the pompous, Shostakovich-style brass band of the Act I interlude.

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The incidental dances include the numbers with mandolins, true heirs of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker miniatures in their exquisite scoring, and all are keenly pointed, but Abbado leaves you in no doubt of the dramatic cornerstones. The players phrase with bel canto artistry in the two great love scenes at the heart of the score, while the searing intensity of Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s suicide reveals the live origins of the performance. The recording hedges full strings too closely, but beautifully captures the luminous subtlety of Juliet’s music, endowed by Abbado with an introspective poetry that no other conductor has equalled. David Nice