Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Serge PROKOFIEV (1891 - 1953)
Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (1936)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy
Notes, including the composer’s original scenario, in English, French, and German,
Recorded Walthamstow Town Hall, UK, February 1991 ‘New Digital recording’(?)
DECCA 436 078-2 2 CD’s [141.28]


Lorin Maazel,Cleveland Orchestra ‘Double Decca’ 452970-2 [ADD] Crotchet US:


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS


This is probably Prokofiev’s greatest work. In my recent essay I suggested that most conductors play Prokofiev’s music well because the scores are written so skilfully to the orchestra’s capabilities. Differences in quality of performance were mostly due to whether the conductor just played the notes as written (good) or tried to gush and emotionalise (bad). Stravinsky has made similar comments on his own music, that is to say that he puts all the emotion he wants in the notes and additional ‘pumping’ on the conductor’s part is not required. The finest live concert version of Romeo and Juliet excerpts I’ve heard was Leinsdorf and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. The orchestra was so undisciplined at that time and Leinsdorf was so angry at them that they played the Death of Juliet as though they were afraid he was going to kill them. It worked.

Having recently surveyed several video presentations of Romeo and Juliet it was an additional treat to re-listen to the audio-only versions. Most of the dances are played about the same by everybody, but there are some test points where the drama is focused and where the skill of a great conductor shows clearly. In a good live performance by the time you get to the Death of Juliet you are likely not to be hearing terribly well for the noise of your own crying. So, in evaluating a live performance we have to jump there cold and attempt to maintain objectivity. But none of the pit orchestras plays with anywhere near the skill found in these two concert recordings.

These are both excellent performances. The digital sound gives Ashkenazy an advantage, particularly the extra orchestral transparency, the ‘air’ around the violins and bass strings. Played in Dolby 5.1, Maazel is strictly in the front speakers, whereas, while nothing jumps up behind you, Ashkenazy’s sound has a nice room ambience to it. Regarding the interpretation, one could say Maazel plays the music a little more like an orchestral tone poem, whereas I think you could mount a ballet to the Ashkenazy performance with its slight extra crispness on the tempo. Both recordings are very clear on the many percussion accents. Both performances bring searing passion to the dramatic climaxes.

If you have the Maazel recording and are pleased with it, you may confidently continue to be so. If you have neither, the Ashkenazy should be your first choice. The notes point out that the suites were assembled from the original score, which was then revised for the first Russian performance to suit the acoustics of the theatre, so there is a difference in the orchestration. Thus, if you are a complete collector, you must have the suites also. And, a real devotee will want to hear the marvels Bella Davidovich obtains with Prokofiev’s piano arrangements of seven of the dances on Philips 412 742-2.

Paul Shoemaker

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