Prokofiev: Romeo & Juliet Suites - Litton
Classical - Orchestral
Prokofiev: Romeo & Juliet, The Three Suites
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Andrew Litton (conductor)
While containing some of the most popular and attractive music that Prokofiev ever wrote, his suites from the ballet Romeo and Juliet have often been perceived as less than satisfying. Depending on the listener, there is a feeling that the composer chose either too much or too little, or that neither of the suites fully reflects the wealth and variety to be found in the complete score. Many conductors have accordingly compiled their own sequences of movements, picking from all three of the suites. This recording presents another solution: all three suites are played, but the twenty movements (which after all are Prokofiev’s choice of his favourite bits) are performed in the order in which they appear in the ballet. Lasting a little over half the duration of the complete Romeo and Juliet, they preserve the outline of the narrative and together give a full picture of Prokofiev’s gift for bringing characters, scenes and situations to life in music of vivid, striking power: the sunny atmosphere of Shakespeare’s Verona, aggressive energy in the fight music, neo-classical elegance in the courtly dances, quirky humour in the minor roles, and above all great lyrical beauty in the music for the two young lovers and the cruel series of events that leads to their tragic deaths.
All this is brought to us by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra – whose recent Grieg cycle on BIS has been a notable critical success – conducted by its music director Andrew Litton, making his first recording for BIS. The Litton/Bergen collaboration was initiated in 2003 and has been highly successful, something which not only Norwegian, but also European audiences have been able to benefit from through the orchestra’s recent tours. The 2007/2008 season will offer further such possibilities as the team visits Concertgebouw, Royal Albert Hall, Musikverein and Carnegie Hall – four of the world’s most prestigious concert venues.
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Review by John Broggio - July 11, 2007
One could sum up the playing of this gorgeous disc in one word: wonderful.
At first hearing, it may appear underwhelming but that is a deceptive impression which playback at lower volume levels exacerbates; at a higher setting, the full range of expression and dynamics is felt by the ears and the heart. That said, those looking for a barnstorming approach should look elsewhere - this is a refined account, on a par with the delicate accounts of Russian ballet music that Pletnev has drawn from the Russian National Orchestra (and that is one of the highest compliments one can imbue in this repertoire).
As in their earlier Grieg cycle for BIS, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra provide delightfully fresh playing under Litton's baton - this is especially appropriate when Juliet features (one must remember her relatively tender age). This is not to suggest the pomp of the Montagues & Capulets is in any way underplayed, for it is not, rather we are treated to more refinement than has become the norm. One particularly lovely example of the flair that Prokofiev's score is given is Masks - the pointing in the woodwind brings a smile to even the most jaded pair of ears.
One feature that I appreciate greatly is the decision to present the music in the order that it appears in the complete ballet so that one can hear the narrative develop in the music as the story progresses. The balance that Litton conjures is extraordinary - without spotlighting, every detail in the score is easily audible. This would normally have one wondering if the players were occasionally holding back but in numbers such as "Death of Tybalt", it is obvious that the artists are 'merely' paying due respect to the markings in the score; in such "popular classics" this sadly doesn't happen as often as it should. There is only one point where the tempo decision seemed a little unusual - just before the 'chase' in "Death of Tybalt" ends, Litton adopts a dramatic slowing which is not in the published score used in the UK (and seemingly much of the rest of the world) but it should be noted that the edition here is different and this may well be accurate.
BIS have provided us with such a good recording that it never draws attention to itself unless one stops to think about it - a model of its kind and fully in keeping with the excellence we have come to expect from this company.
I challenge anyone not to listen with great pleasure to this disc again and again...
Copyright © 2007 John Broggio and HRAudio.net