Sergei Prokofiev (1893-1953)
The Love for Three Oranges Suite, Op 33a (1919-1924)
Romeo and Juliet Suite No 1, Op 64a (1935)
Romeo and Juliet Suite No 2, Op 64b (1935)
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (Romeo)
London Symphony Orchestra/Antal Doráti (Oranges)
rec. 1957-1962, Minneapolis, USA and London, UK
ALTO ALC1453 
These are classic recordings from 60 or more years ago which, in these transfers, yet retain their detail and gripping impact. Treble is on the sweet side and bass well enough nourished, as you might expect from Mercury originals over which Bob Fine originally held court.
The entertaining six movements of The Love for Three Oranges suite play for almost sixteen minutes. In the extended, and very affecting, The Prince and the Princess, a hushed atmosphere complements the tenderly lush playing; similarly in the Rimskian Scherzo. The famous ‘tom thumb’-scale march struts nicely and the dynamics are more subtly rendered than in the Soviet Melodiya brass band transcription I recall, with some pleasure, from a 1970s EMI-Melodiya LP. Dorati makes good use of the players and technology, halfway convincing us that Watford Town Hall is the equal of the Kingsway Hall. Dorati and the LSO went back to Watford two years later for an exceptional Firebird ballet which, with Mercury’s magic applied, held the field for me. This was at first via a cheap Contour LP and then a CD that brought vivid life to the ‘gran cassa’ thwack in the concluding moments of the ballet. Mercury had a gift for these things; witness the similar seismic drum in Frederick Fennell’s recording of Crown Imperial.
After this, and across almost an hour, we hear thirteen movements of the first two suites Prokofiev made from the complete ballet score for Romeo and Juliet. Skrowaczewski, who I recall from various Voxbox sets (Ravel), a Bruckner cycle on Oehms and his own works on Reference Recordings, cradles and incites the Minneapolis orchestra to awesome effect. Mercury also plays its part in this recording’s success. Listen to the way they carry off the dynamic parry and thrust in The Death of Tybalt and the inky black belligerent tragedy of Montagues and Capulets. At the other end of the scale there is the rustling woven gossamer of Romeo and Juliet Before Parting. Romeo and Juliet’s Grave concludes the CD with an access of rafter-shaking power.
Tired of all this nostalgic compromise of audio values? If you want a goodly slice of the ballet in symphonic apparel then Muti on Chicago’s CSO Resound label takes some beating, but there’s an equally fine earlier Muti version with the Philadelphia Orchestra (EMI). Muti and the Philadelphians brought their stunning reading to the 1982 Proms. I was knocked sideways by the Radio 3 broadcast of the concert.
If you are looking for alternative unusual listening experiences then the VAI Bolshoi/Rozhdestvensky DVD of the complete ballet must be seen … and heard. Its primitive Soviet colour-stock lends a Breughel-like semi-lurid glamour to the no-holds-barred musical performance. For a purely audio corrective to soft-focus lushness and hi-fi ‘delights’ then I recommend an ‘ancient’ recording of the complete ballet This is from Algis Zhuraitis (1928-98) and the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra on Classics for Pleasure - a 2-CD re-mastering from 1989 (CD-CFPD 4452).
Back to the release under review: Gavin Dixon squeezes in a lot of supportive information about music, composer and conductors across the three pages of the insert notes.
Alto also have an earlier stereo CD covering related material. It’s on ALC 1258 and features a 1996 session comprising a 35-minute selection from Romeo and Juliet, the Classical Symphony and the Kijé suite, all played by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Yuri Simonov.
The disc under review here is an impressive example of Alto’s judgement in sourcing recordings that can still command attention and affection.
Published: October 13, 2022