- Romeo and Juliet, ballet in 4 acts, Op. 64
This 2008 live recording with the London Symphony Orchestra is Valery Gergiev's second complete recording of Prokofiev's ballet "Romeo and Juliet," the first being a 1991 Philips release with the Kirov Orchestra. This performance, like his first, is notable for its refinement and lyricism. It's perhaps surprising that Gergiev, known for the wildness and ferocity of his performances of other Prokofiev works, like "The Fiery Angel," shows such restraint here. Gergiev clearly understands the ballet as a work in which Prokofiev, writing originally for the Bolshoi, a theater known for its conservatism (although that production was canceled), tailored his score to follow in the tradition of the three great Tchaikovsky ballets. The composer certainly cuts loose when appropriate, as in the fierce Introduction to Act III and the various fights, but the score is exceptional in its delicacy and finely calibrated orchestration. Because it is a "numbers" ballet, made up of a series of discrete movements or sections, it's easy for the complete, nearly two-and-a-half hour ballet to come across as episodic, especially without the visual element to hold the narrative together. Gergiev does an excellent job of keeping the dramatic momentum going at the same time as he gives loving attention to its many exquisite details, and even though his approach is refined, that doesn't mean that it in any way lacks passion, intensity, and suspense. Another strong recommendation for this performance is the fact that it is the first recording of the ballet as the composer originally conceived it. In preparation for the ballet's Russian premiere at the Kirov Theatre in 1940, Prokofiev reluctantly cut or altered some numbers and added others. This version, prepared for the Mark Morris Dance Group by Princeton musicologist Simon Morrison, restores the composer's original intentions for the scenario and the music. Gergiev led the LSO in accompanying Morris' British premiere of the restored version in 2008, and went on to conduct it in concert, the source of this recording. The sound of the SACD is clean, clear, and brilliant. This is a recording that should be of strong interest to Gergiev's fans and anyone who loves the music.