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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Romeo and Juliet - Scenes from the Ballet (Suite arr. Michael Tilson Thomas): Introduction to Act I ; Romeo; The Street Awakens; The Quarrel; The Fight; The Duke's Command; Interlude; Nurse ; Young Juliet; Arrival of the Guests; Dance of the Knights; Mercutio; Madrigal; Gavotte; Balcony Scene; Introduction to Act III; Folk Dance; Dance with Mandolins; Public; Meeting of Tybalt and Mercutio; The Duel; Romeo decides to avenge Mercutio; Finale: Death of Tybalt; Romeo and Juliet ; Romeo and Juliet at Parting; Interlude ; Juliet; Juliet's; Juliet's Death
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas
No recording information
BMG RCA RED SEAL 82876 59424 [78'10]

Prokofievís music for Romeo and Juliet, incredibly described as Ďundanceableí when the Bolshoi first encountered it, has been recorded in a number of different incarnations over the years. Prokofiev made three suites himself, ordered according to musical rather than plot considerations. Conductors have typically organised the numbers into a dramatically comprehensible sequence and Michael Tilson Thomas is no exception, his suite being in four well-balanced sections.

The first introduces Romeo and depicts the initial fight in the street. We immediately hear evidence of the quality of the sonic engineering; all the instruments are lively and clear in a truly thrilling acoustic. Romeoís streetwise bassoon struts and poses in contrast to the strings in his dreamier mood. The quarrel springs naturally from the street sounds and the fight is clashingly lively. Tilson Thomasís work is particularly impressive in the fast numbers throughout the CD.

The second section, introduced by the humorous Nurse, is all about the Capulets. Julietís music is girlish and wistful by turns, Tilson Thomas deftly pointing up the contrasts. After a suitably pompous Arrival of the Guests, the Knights move into action, all the more menacingly for being allowed to dance at a less ponderous tempo than some conductors employ. I can imagine these formidable gentlemen clearing the floor pretty rapidly. As whenever the lower brass get involved, the sheer power of the sound is very impressive.

I have always found Mercutio the most interesting character in the play and his music fairly crackles in this performance. The Balcony Scene is sensitively played but sometimes too self-consciously so; the result is slightly stiff and does not flow quite as it should, although the gentle end to the piece is lovely. The performance returns to top form in the sequence of dances which, by virtue of Tilson Thomasís number scheme, gives a natural break from the drama at just the right time. Prokofievís music for the duels beats most film fight music into a cocked hat and Tilson Thomas does it full justice. The Death of Tybalt produces the most spine-tingling music in the whole ballet; the sound engineering allows the bass drum and the terrifying brass their full impact and the balance is spot-on.

The gentle poignancy of the final numbers culminating in Julietís death is equally well handled. The various love themes are recapitulated, distorted and collapse into a final weariness, a natural ending to the drama. One really feels at this point that Tilson Thomasís choice and sequence of numbers makes a truly theatrical sequence.

Even if you already have a version of this twentieth century masterpiece, I can safely say that the performance and sonics of this version are wholly recommendable. Shakespeare as well as Prokofiev is done full justice here.

Roger Blackburn


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