Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet Suite

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: CSO Resound
WORKS: Romeo and Juliet Suite
PERFORMER: Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Riccardo Muti
CATALOGUE NO: CSOR 901 1402

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Riccardo Muti is something of a contradiction in his grand mastery, an explorer in some ways but in others content to rest on his laurels. His recording of Prokofiev’s film music to Ivan the Terrible was both pioneering and still the blazing best, while he championed a Prokofiev rarity back in 1990, The Meeting of the Volga and the Don. But his Romeo and Juliet ‘Suite’ – actually a selection of numbers from the composer’s First and Second Suites – hasn’t changed in decades, and at 48 sometimes laboured minutes it’s not enough. Only compare this with Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic’s 68-minute sequence, mixing suite movements with numbers from the full-length ballet.

Perhaps if more of the ballet had been presented, we might buy some of the drawn-out drama in the last two numbers. But here the self-indulgence only seems to glorify the CSO horns. The first love scene is sufficiently aerated to support the gorgeous sounds, and the brass, as one may expect from this orchestra, is splendid throughout; the cornet solo at the heart of the Minuet is as classy-cool as they come. I’ve also never heard ‘Masks’ better articulated. But when it comes to characterisation and tempo changes, it all feels too mannered. Recording is exceptionally vivid, capturing some piercing high frequencies as well as the presence of those stalking tuba lines Prokofiev loved so much. But if it’s still a selection rather than the Wagnerian breadth of the complete ballet you want, Abbado (on DG) is a clear first choice.

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David Nice