Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet Suite; The Love for Three Oranges Suite

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Finlandia
WORKS: Romeo and Juliet Suite; The Love for Three Oranges Suite
PERFORMER: Toronto SO/Jukka-Pekka Saraste
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-19050-2
Saraste is a conductor who thinks hard about the whys and wherefores of what he does, and he’s not shy to challenge tradition. His ‘narrative suite’ from Romeo and Juliet draws on 26 of the original 52 numbers – ‘those episodes which most effectively advance the plot’. These bypass the piecemeal nature of the composer’s own three suites, together with the temptation to exchange between them. But they also get rid of some of the linking crowd scenes, as well as those larger repeated sections perceived to be more dance convention than dramatic necessity.

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Laudable as the idea may be to contrive a cogent piece of theatre for the concert hall, it works only intermittently: an abridged hybrid, neither balletic nor symphonic, with arguably too much cameo material to sustain an hour-long span. What Saraste may gain in narrative logic, he loses in musical tension (as does his producer, whose timing of movement gaps is almost as lax here as in The Love for Three Oranges). Generally, the performance is clinical and detached, concentrating more on self-containment, detail and sound than continuity, with the big numbers held back.

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If you want the complete score go for the tried-and-tested Previn classic; consider, too, Ermler (Conifer). Despite their idiomatic virtues, Järvi’s integral suites (Chandos) lack the absolute emotional charge of Chung’s better-played, superior recorded highlights collection. The warmer, more colourfully aware advocate, encouraging the music to breathe and expand, Chung includes movements omitted by Saraste. Ates Orga