Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Romeo and Juliet - ballet suite op. 64 [39:08]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Romeo and Juliet - Fantasy Overture [21:37]
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/Tadaki Otaka
rec. 11-12 February 1991, Brangwyn Hall, Swansea. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5306 [61:00]
Otaka is a conductor I now follow closely – rather belated, I grant you. The trigger was his Rachmaninov - first the piano concertos with Lill and then the symphonies. His readings impress and so do the Nimbus recordings made in the Brangwyn Hall. Interestingly his teachers were Keilberth, Sawallisch, Matacic and Saito. With this disc he turns his hand to two Russians' ways with Romeo and Juliet.
For the 40 minute eight movement ballet suite by Prokofiev Otaka takes the way of fragile delicacy and luxuriant epic tempi. Certainly he will not be rushed.
The movements are mixed and matched from the three suites for dramatic effect. They are:-

The recording delivers in sheer horsepower as well as in subtlety. The first can be appreciated in the contrast between whispered tension and blurted out fortissimo in the first movement. The way the solo cello pages reach out to you from the RH speaker in The Child Juliet at 1.46 is unique and most tellingly done. Those fortissimos might perhaps be criticised only in that they spread across the loudspeakers' field of fire. I did not hear quite the super-spectacular sense of overwhelming volume that I found in a less nuanced but impressive reading such as that by Muti. Otaka's deliberation often pays off but there are some moments which communicate less than convincingly as with the trumpet solo at Romeo at the Grave of Juliet at 1:29 which is just too languid for its own good. This collection will suit you if you would like a change from hectic possessed readings. Otaka suits me very well not least because he excels at the extremes of yielding innocence and black tragedy. At Otaka's broader pace detail after detail emerges to satisfying effect. If you fear that he weakens the faster movements try the final one in this sequence: Death of Tybalt which fairly pelts along.
The Tchaikovsky is very well known. My prime recommendations here are the raw Ovchinnikov on Olympia and above all the LSO/Monteux from 1960 on Vanguard. Otaka's approach is typically studied and controlled so that every detail and nuance of emotion registers. Once again though you will need to be ready for a more lingering pace - might be just the ticket after Ovchinnikov's whirlwind. Every strand is exhibited and score-reading should be a delight for this reason. Please do not think that this is a reading without drama. Hearing the piercing sawing sound at 13:44 soon banishes such fears. A good and distinctively personal take on a warhorse tone poem.
The liner-notes are by David Gutman. They are good but I am not sure how apposite the cover illustration is. It’s William Dyce's Francesca (not Francesco as the liner claims) da Rimini. Not that I would not like to hear Otaka in Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini.
A good intelligently conceived pairing, steady of pulse, grippingly and transparently recorded and totally committed.
Rob Barnett
A good intelligent pairing, steady of pulse, grippingly recorded and totally committed.