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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

Romeo and Juliet Suite

Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
Recorded Live in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center, Chicago on October 3, 5, 8 & 11, 2013
CSO Resound CSOR9011402 DDD 48:52
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This is by far the most compelling selection from Serge Prokofieff's Romeo and Juliet I have heard in a long time. Recorded live in October 2013 in Chicago, Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra not only depict each scene with an unerring sense of drama, but also a complete understanding of the fabrics of the score and the composer's individual sonorities. The selection is culled from the First and Second Suites, yet in spite of the tragically short total timing, we are given Prokofieff's Romeo and Juliet in a nutshell.

Released on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's own label (CSO Resound), this CD brilliantly recalls the remarkable historic connection between the orchestra and Prokofieff, who visited Chicago no less than five times between 1918 and 1937. His Third Piano Concerto as well as his opera The Love for Three Oranges were given their world premieres there in 1921, while in 1937 the composer himself conducted fragments from his still-unstaged ballet Romeo and Juliet with the Chicago Symphony.

While the playing here is, to say the least, pretty sensational, with a seasoned maestro of the theatre like Riccardo Muti (who has also conducted the ballet in performance) there is never a risk this would turn into a mere orchestral display. By his subtly pliable phrasing and spot-on timing, his absolute mastery of dynamics and timbres, Muti tells a story in every bar. The tenderness and juvenile passion of the Madrigal and the Balcony Scene (the crucial closing moments of #6 when Muti slightly holds back are devastatingly beautiful), the frivolity of the Masks, the comforting tranquility of Friar Laurence, or the brutality of Tybalt's death are captured with astonishing accuracy and presence. The CSO proves an absolutely stunning formation, solos are quite simply in a class of their own; and to complete the pleasure the recording is first-rate too.

Romeo and Juliet is one of Prokofieff's most beloved works, yet only a handful of recordings get to the core and remind us what an utter masterpiece it really is. Riccardo Muti and the CSO definitely achieve that. Now, if anybody could convince this golden winner's team to cut the complete ballet, please! Indispensable.

Copyright © 2014, Marc Haegeman