Romeo and Juliet
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Naxos 8.573534-35 144:14 mins (2 discs)
It came as a shock, during a Proms performance of Brahms’s First Symphony, to realise that for all her invaluable skill and valour as an animateur and educator, Marin Alsop appears to lack a natural instinct for phrasing. She let the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment kill the finale’s big tune, and the lack of special urging makes this complete Romeo and Juliet so hard to sit through, too.
There’s a painful lack of human life, starting with what ought to be the love-surges of the ‘Introduction’, though the last two numbers do rise above the level of the rest. When not blandly legato, lines are pecked at, especially in the Balcony Scene, the denouement of Act II, and what should be the poignancy of the lovers’ parting, despite the chamber-musical textures working rather well. Many tempos are questionable when not simply feeling slow because under-energised; why the speeding-up of the brass processional before our introduction to a rather faceless young Juliet?
It’s a shame, as the Baltimore players sound good both collectively (the strings, though lean, apply a nice vibrato) and as soloists, especially the principal flute and cello. I like the upfront treatment of the mandolins, more enjoyable than much of the rest. The otherwise natural sound picture handles the big moments well, too. It would be a false economy, though, to favour this over complete recordings by Gergiev (on LSO Live), Ermler, Ozawa and – still the front runner, despite the antique Melodiya sound – the very recently deceased Rozhdestvensky.