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Sergei Prokofiev (1891 - 1953)
Romeo and Juliet ballet Suite #1, Op. 64A (1936) [26.20]
Romeo and Juliet ballet Suite #2, Op. 64B (1936) [29.32]
Romeo and Juliet ballet Suite #3, Op. 101 (1946) [17.39]
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
Recorded in the Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, 18 November 2002, utilising the DSD recording system.
Notes in English
Also available on SACD 90597.
TELARC CD-80597 [74.57]

When Prokofiev finished writing Romeo and Juliet it was expected that it would be immediately performed by the Bolshoi ballet company; however, the company rejected the work for several reasons. The original version had a happy ending where Romeo arrives and finds Juliet alive and the two lovers dance a joyous reunion finale. When news of this leaked out, it caused a storm of protest, surprisingly more in Russia than in England, and after conferring with the dancers, who felt the finale music actually wasnít all that joyous anyway, the scenario and music were revised to the version we know today, where the original tragic ending is preserved and Romeo dances with Julietís dead body. However, the overall work still did not please and the rejection held.

In the hope of arousing interest in performing the work, Prokofiev extracted two suites from the score as it existed then, including the new music for Shakespeareís original ending, and these were widely performed and widely accepted. Partly as a result, the whole work was performed in Czechoslovakia in 1938. With their insistence that the work was "undanceable" disproved by a foreign company the Russians were shamed and the Kirov company immediately began planning for a full Russian production. However a number of revisions were made to the score; some dances were added and the orchestration was revised to suit the acoustics of the hall so the dancers could hear the music better.

The ballet proved to be an overwhelming success and there remained a demand for more concert music, so Prokofiev extracted Suite #3 from the score as it then existed. The three suites make up a substantial concert program, yet still less than half the length of the full ballet. For a true collector, the fact that the orchestration of the numbers in the Suites 1 and 2 is different from that of the same dances in the published score of the full ballet means that one must have both the full ballet and the suites to have all the music. It can be argued that the orchestration in the suites is superior to that in the ballet because it was the composerís original conception, not changed in reaction to practical staging considerations.

One might prefer to have a video performance of the whole ballet rather than a CD of excerpts, but unfortunately the video performances Iíve seen seem to have a sound quality inversely proportional to their dance performance quality, so I donít know any other course than to have one recording of the music and a separate video recording of the dance. There are several good CD versions of the complete ballet score on two CDs but that might be more of this work than a collector wants to pay for or listen to at one sitting and, of course, all the music would be with the later orchestration.

Hence a this disk could be just what many collectors are looking for, particularly in its SACD incarnation, which I have not yet had the pleasure of hearing. Sound and performance on this CD are both excellent, as good or better than the best Iíve heard. As I mentioned in my biography of Prokofiev, his scores so clearly express his intentions and his exotic sounds are accomplished by such simple and direct means that differences in both quality and style from one performance to the next are minor. Lest anyone think that the Cincinnati SO is less than first rate, let it be remembered that it is the oldest Orchestra in the region and was the first orchestra where Leopold Stokowski was music director.

Paul Shoemaker

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