Registering a wide emotional range, Gatti makes very familiar material seem fresh and compelling without being willfully "different."
This pair of Romeo and Juliets from Daniele Gatti and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is the conductor's fourth CD for BMG Conifer. Others include a Bartók disc, Respighi 's "Roman Trilogy," and a very effective Mahler Symphony No .5. With the Prokofiev, the trend in recent years has been for conductors to fashion their own series of selections from the compete work and to eschew the three suites the composer produced that may be musically satisfying but that ignore entirely the narrative flow of the ballet. A spectacularly successful example is a 1996 RCA discRead more from Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony which, at 78 minutes, presents a bit more than half of the ballet—perhaps all you really need outside the context of a staged performance. Gatti takes a middle ground. He plays most of the movements from the "official" Suites Nos. 1 and 2 (op. 64b and op. 64c) but reorders them to make more dramatic sense. Gatti states in the notes, "I have chosen to present the individual pieces as a series of colorful contrasts, as Prokofiev did, whilst retaining a semblance of the original story line."
The conductor succeeds considerably. Gatti registers a wide emotional range, rendering aptly both the most tender music and the crudest moments. He captures both the Neoclassical spirit of the work, as in his graceful, spontaneous-sounding "Juliet, the young girl," and the overtly Romantic gestures. The "Balcony Scene" has moments of exquisite delicacy, rising to a fervent tenderness; the closing "Romeo at Juliet's Tomb" is powerful, with an acutely agonized sense of grief. Those who love this music will have (at least) one of the several versions of the complete score—Maazel's, on a bargain-priced London "Double Decker" set, fills the bill nicely—and I find Tilson Thomas's balletic, well-played program indispensable. There's also still a place for the traditional, composer-approved suites: Muti's early 1980s readings of the first two, for instance.
In Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, Gatti makes very familiar material seem fresh and compelling without being willfully "different." The opening minutes are permeated with a sense of longing, and when the Big Theme comes, while Gatti doesn't wallow, his performance is certainly quite stirring. From Intersound's budget-priced "Royal Philharmonic Orchestra" series, we know this venerable ensemble plays well for any good conductor; they play exceptionally well for their young Music Director. The recording is billed as having "EDR"—"Extended Dynamic Range"—and, indeed, you'd better adjust the volume level with care. The opening chord of "Montagues and Capulets" starts at a modest level, but Crescendos to a cataclysmic roar that had me diving for the gain control the first time out. The sound, generally, is nonfatiguing, with imaging and depth that are very good, if not quite state-of-the-art. The conductor's respiratory exertions are episodically audible.
There are close to 100 listings for the Tchaikovsky in Schwann Opus and dozens of Prokofiev's R & J, in various forms. Do you really want another version of these perennial favorites? You may want Gatti's.