WORKS: Romeo and Juliet
PERFORMER: RPO/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: 436 078-2
Why has Decca hung on to this one for so long? Suspended like Juliet in a deathless sleep between the Prokofiev anniversaries of 1991 and this year, Ashkenazy’s complete recording reveals no major flaws to justify its suspension. It doesn’t quite knock Ermler’s Covent Garden all-rounder off its pedestal; like the Ozawa and Gergiev recordings, it captures best those dimensions of this multi-faceted score which happen to reflect the conductor’s temperament. Ashkenazy may not have the free rubato nor the lit-from-within strings which make the love scenes of Ozawa’s Boston contender so starry-eyed; nor does he cut and thrust as vividly as Gergiev in the fights, even though the vocalising from the podium is almost as pronounced. His special virtues are the supreme spring and elegance of the set-piece dances at the ball and in the street, matched by the same sense of continuity between numbers which made his Cleveland Cinderella so obviously preferable to the stop-start Pletnev recording.
We tend to forget how good the Royal Philharmonic could be, even in the days before Gatti arrived (his Romeo and Juliet excerpts are more imposing, but also more studied). The woodwind in particular vocalise their many expressive solos limpidly – a great help for ‘The Young Juliet’ – and with the help of the subtly lit recording make the chamber music of Act III very touching (thankfully Ashkenazy glides over the more overblown passages here, too). Not the least among the benefits of waiting for this release are the late Christopher Palmer’s exemplary notes, paralleling Prokofiev’s full written scenario with detailed and perceptive comments on this richest of ballet scores. David Nice