Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: LSO Live
WORKS: Romeo and Juliet
PERFORMER: London Symphony Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: LSO Live LSO0682 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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For a work regarded as one of the great ballets – some would say the greatest – there are surprisingly few complete recordings of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. As with any ballet, it loses much when the music is divorced from the dance.

Nonetheless, Prokofiev’s remarkable range of orchestral invention is on show as virtually nowhere else, as is his rich eclecticism. Yes, it is long, but there are very few longueurs, especially when performed like this, with the London Symphony Orchestra on top form and the frisson of live performance captured in SACD surround sound. 

Few can rival Valery Gergiev’s pedigree in Prokofiev’s music, and he is palpably aware of how this score works in the theatre. His pacing of events is masterly, with plenty of verve and passion, such as when Tybalt recognises Romeo, but this is never over-driven.

Gergiev is adroit at capturing the fluctuating moods, not just in the confrontational or love scenes, but also in more elusive vignettes, such as the palpable excitement as the nurse scurries furtively to deliver Juliet’s letter to Romeo. As a consequence, it is all the more powerful when this music returns, only to turn sour, as Juliet refuses Paris’s marriage proposal. 

There are also some revelations. The ‘Dance with Mandolins’, which can have an element of mania, has a playful charm, with the clarinet enjoying weaving around the cheeky and colourful brass. Indeed there is much that is relaxed about this reading, yet, even amid the bombast of the ‘Dance of the Knights’, the music always flows. 

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What really impresses, though, is the tenderness and poetry that are so often overlooked in Prokofiev, and not just in the love music. Gergiev frequently lets the strings and solo woodwind linger in a beguiling, natural rubato, whilst maintaining an architectural grasp of the tragic whole. The shaping of the Epilogue wrings the heart, with the LSO exhibiting exceptional control. Strongly recommended. Christopher Dingle