Vadim Borisovsky was the founder of the Soviet viola school,
the violist of the Beethoven quartet and the dedicatee of many
works by Soviet composers, including Shostakovich’s 13th
Quartet. This disc contains his arrangement of Prokofiev’s ballet
Romeo and Juliet for viola and piano. The arrangement
is of excellent quality and gives a good notion of the original.
It is never dull: first, thanks to the diversity of the viola’s
voice; second, due to the number of styles and effects used;
and third, because the instruments are not stuck with the same
roles. Pretty much all the important scenes of the ballet are
included; the performers added to the original transcription
three numbers, arranged by David Grunes and Matthew Jones, in
order to complete the picture. The new arrangements fit the
style of the main “base” perfectly.
I love this ballet, maybe more than any other, and I got great
pleasure from listening to this disc, each time. The performance
is light and nimble, but also has power in the heavier places,
like Dance of the Knights or Death of Tybalt.
The ceremonial solemnity of the Ball scene is well presented.
The mercurial, theatrical qualities of the score are excellently
expressed; the medieval scenery and the Shakespearean drama
are conveyed graphically. The love music is warm and sensual,
including the tender ecstasy of the Balcony scene – radiant
and rapturous. This is young love, powerful, unrestrained.
The performers recreate the emotions of the big score. So, for
example, Dance of the Knights is appropriately massive
and cruel, even scary, while the inner episodes are, in turn,
sweet and tender – and icy and insecure. Mercutio’s jolliness
is infectious, yet his tale about Queen Mab is mysterious and
spooky. In the Parting scene, the viola of Matthew Jones alternates
between the violin’s high clarity and the cello’s opulent depths.
The piano sounds heavy-handed at times, but somehow it works
well for this music and comes as an improbable advantage. The
thread of the narration does not completely follow the timeline
of the ballet … and Shakespeare. I was surprised to discover
that the last track joins together the parting scene and the
death of Juliet. Both are played beautifully, but the logic
seems weird: Juliet definitely lived for some time in estrangement.
The sound of both instruments is full and deep, so the texture
is never too thin or empty. The distribution of the roles is
not always the standard one: viola on top, piano with the accompaniment.
No, they often exchange, echo, toss the themes to each other.
This creates diversity of the texture. Two of the numbers require
two violas, and the second one is played by the veteran Rivka
The recorded sound is rich and clear. Overall, this is a wonderful
performance of a wonderful arrangement of wonderful music. If
you love Prokofiev’s ballet, then I’m sure you will enjoy this
presentation. If you don’t know the ballet, then you should
start with the complete orchestral version. But after you do,
don’t forget this arrangement. Due to the skill of the arranger
and the performers, it is unexpectedly rich, faithful and touching:
more than one could guess from the modest forces.
The Street Awakens [1:37]
Juliet as a Young Girl [3:23]
Minuet – Arrival of the Guests [3:15]
Dance of the Knights [5:55]
Balcony Scene [5:06]
Dance with Mandolins# [2:12]
Romeo at Friar Laurence’s Home [7:17]
Death of Mercutio [2:58]
Death of Tybalt** [3:30]
Morning Serenade# [2:23]
Dance of the Lily Maidens* [2:27]
Epilogue: Parting Scene and Death of Juliet [6:44]