This album's accompanying materials state that the recordings were made at the Kulturpalast in Dresden, but no dates are given for these live performances. I'll guess they were taken from the 2011-12 season and all from the same concert. If that is so, there was likely a soloist on the program (the CD runs 63 minutes), who is not included here to avoid going onto a second disc. I should also mention that Michael Sanderling became chief conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic beginning with the 2011-12 season. In any event, if you like variety in a concert program, the selections here are well chosen, offering the serenity and beauty of Fauré's Pelléas et Mélisande Suite, the color and bombast of Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italien, and the passion and drama from well selected excerpts of Prokofiev's great ballet Romeo and Juliet. Well selected excerpts, yes, but I'm not sure the order was the most logical, as Tybalt's death comes long before Romeo and Juliet's demise in the ballet.
Sanderling draws fine playing and the appropriate temperament from his orchestra throughout this program: he deftly captures Fauré's lush serenity and beauty in the opening Prelude and the composer's somewhat restrained tragedy in the fourth and final movement, the Death of Mélisande. In between, he infuses the proper mixture of spirit and elegance in La Fileuse and Sicilienne.
Sanderling's Capriccio Italien makes just about the best case for this festive and slightly corny piece. The brass blare out big hearty sonorities in their moments of fanfare and the strings play with a broad range of dynamics throughout and with silken luxuriance when appropriate. In the faster, more colorful sections the woodwinds and strings play with a chipper spirit that's quite suitable for the folk-inspired tunes Tchaikovsky used, tunes which I've always thought had as much an Iberian flavor as Italian.
The biggest offering here is the selection of six excerpts from two suites of Prokofiev's ballet, Romeo and Juliet. In general the music gets a weighty treatment by Sanderling and company: the introduction to Montagues and Capulets is powerfully rendered, while the ensuing famous march theme is taken at a somewhat more deliberate pace than is usual, giving the music a darker, defiant character. The Young Juliet and Dance are bright and perky, but in the latter number Prokofiev's piquant dissonances emerge with some bite and color. While there are beauty and serenity in Romeo at Juliet's before Parting, Sandlerling imparts a lurking awareness of tragedy by highlighting the sense of mystery and pointing up disruptive harmonies and rhythms. Darkness and tragedy come on strong in the ending though, as well as in the ensuing The Death of Juliet: here the strings cry out in the opening while the brass later on coldly and powerfully proclaim tragedy; and when the love theme returns the effect is heartrending. The closing number, The Death of Tybalt, has the requisite manic character in the first half and the ceremonious sense of tragedy in the latter part.
The sound is very detailed and quite powerful in all selections here. To make comparisons with other recordings in a mixed program like this is almost pointless, since I believe most potential buyers will be looking at this disc as a showpiece for the Dresden Philharmonic and its conductor Michael Sanderling. Moreover, who would ever find a competing disc with these three works that also featured the same Romeo and Juliet excerpts? Some of the better Romeo and Juliet excerpt discs, like Ancerl/Czech Philharmonic on Supraphon (from the 1950s), Mitropoulos/New York Philharmonic on Sony (1957), Myung-Whun Chung/Amsterdam Concertbouw on DG, Tilson-Thomas/San Francisco Symphony on RCA, and Rostropovich/National Symphony Orchestra on DG, mostly all feature different selections from the ballet or from the ballet suites. It's like comparing apples and oranges, and, more importantly, all of them are on all-Prokofiev discs. Tchaikovsky mavens can get the Capriccio Italien on many excellent all-Tchaikovsky discs as well, though the Fauré usually appears on CD in mixed fare.
If you're looking for a varied concert program then, this disc offers strong performances of all three works and Genuin presents them in vivid sound.
Copyright © 2012 by Robert Cummings.