Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet (excerpts); Symphony No. 6

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Romeo and Juliet (excerpts); Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: NHK SO/Charles Dutoit
CATALOGUE NO: 462 107-2
If Prokofiev hoped that his return home in the Thirties would end any official Soviet prejudice against his music, he was cruelly mistaken. Both works recorded here suffered on account of their endings, though ironically for opposite reasons. His ballet Romeo and Juliet, turned down by the Kirov and Bolshoi theatres, faced controversy in part because of its original happy ending (Romeo arrives at the tomb in time to find Juliet alive and well), and was staged in Russia only in 1946, by which time the three concert suites had taken on an independent existence. The Sixth Symphony, premiered a year later, was a particular target of the infamous attack on ‘formalism’ by Zhdanov, Stalin’s culture minister, in 1948; along with Shostakovich’s Eighth, it was attacked for its ‘unhealthy individualism’ and pessimism. Prokofiev’s finale begins with the same style of postwar rejoicing as that of his heroic Fifth Symphony, but loses its way and ends in deep tragedy.

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My only criticism of Charles Dutoit’s otherwise exemplary new account would be that he slightly holds back from the full horror of the finale’s shattering climax. His selection of eight movements from the first two Romeo and Juliet suites makes narrative sense, in performances that emphasise the music’s sensitivity – perhaps at the expense of its raw energy. The NHK Symphony Orchestra performs impeccably throughout for its new artistic director, with some especially good woodwind playing. Stephen Maddock