Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Suite from Romeo and Juliet, Op.64 (1934/35, arr. for viola and piano)
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]
Arranged by Vadim Borisovsky (1900-1972) except *David Grunes and **Matthew Jones (with Michael Hampton)
Matthew Jones (viola), Michael Hampton (piano), #Rivka Golani (viola)
rec. 27-28 February and 30 April 2009, Wyastone Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Gwent, UK. DDD
NAXOS 8.572318 [58:08]
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 Golani.
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.
Unexpectedly rich, faithful and touching.