Sunday, 16 November 2014

Riccardo Muti is a conductor at the top of his game with his live recording of a selection from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra newly released by CSO Resound

The ballet Romeo and Juliet (1935/36) is probably one of Sergei Prokofiev’s most popular works mainly due to the suites that the composer drew from the score.  Suites No.1, Op.64a and No.2, Op.64b came in 1936 followed in 1946 by Suite No.3, Op.101.

Riccardo Muti www.riccardomuti.com on his live recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra http://cso.org, made in October 2013 and just released by CSO Resound http://csosoundsandstories.org/category/cso-resound-recordings, chose a selection from these suites that works exceptionally well.

CSOR 901 1402
Montagues and Capulets has an overpowering opening with its series of orchestral outbursts. The intervening hushed passages receive some beautifully sensitive playing. When the theme proper arrives, Muti means business with strong rhythms, incisive playing and the very fine Chicago Symphony Orchestra bringing all their weight to the music giving it an unstoppable quality. In the central section, Muti brings out the most exquisite woodwind motifs with the Chicago strings showing a lovely sheen. There are some very fine individual instrumental contributions too.

A beautifully fleet Juliet the Young Girl punctuated by some lovely moments, which the orchestra take, up revealing Prokofiev’s wonderful gift for melody and romance. I love the way Muti varies the tempi so naturally, so freely before, towards the end, there is a tranquil moment with more lovely woodwind moments.

The Chicago strings bring a lovely quality to Prokofiev’s shifting harmonies in Madrigal with Muti revealing many subtleties in this score.

Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra bring a real sense of occasion to the Minuet pointing up Prokofiev’s spiky rhythms and showing a real sense of spectacle. There is a lovely atmospheric middle section and a brilliantly done coda.

With Masks Muti and the orchestra again display a remarkable understanding of Prokofiev’s metronomic rhythms, finely introduced on the side drum before some lovely wistful little woodwind phrases.

There is a softly glowing opening to Romeo and Juliet with gossamer strings and perfectly paced dynamic interruptions before the big tune is allowed its head, showing the Chicago SO’s fabulous string section to the full. As Muti builds the music it becomes spine-tinglingly impressive with this conductor allowing a fine breadth to develop as the Chicago brass intone over the orchestra before a beautifully drawn, hushed coda.

Death of Tybalt brings a tremendous contrast as Muti revels in Prokofiev’s dissonant harmonies and violent orchestral cross rhythms with absolutely superb playing from the orchestra. They thunder out the drumbeats before the staccato rhythms arrive, brass braying wildly.

There is an exquisitely done Friar Laurence with the orchestra gently weaving the instrumental textures as well as a lovely, mellow bassoon solo.

Romeo and Juliet before Parting brings a hushed, expectant opening before developing a fuller string sound. Muti draws such beautifully sensitive playing from the orchestra. The horns and woodwind enter bringing a passion, a surge of emotion, perfectly set off by the strings, subtly increasing the power and emotion before an outburst that is powerful and stirring, leading to the finely judged, hushed coda.

The Chicago strings tear at the heart in the opening of Romeo at Juliet’s Tomb where Muti maintains a feeling of palpable grief as the music becomes increasingly laden with heavy emotion. Towards the end they bring some tremendous dynamic timpani strokes before the hushed coda.

Here is a conductor at the top of his game with a first rate live recording from the Orchestra Hall, Chicago. This disc might be just short of 49 minutes in duration but what a 49 minutes!

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