Complete suites from the ballet. Paavo Jarvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Telarc CD-80597.
If you already have Prokofiev's complete Romeo and Juliet ballet (my favorites are from Andre Previn on EMI and Lorin Maazel on Decca), or if listening to the whole ballet doesn't interest you, or if you can't find Erich Leinsdorf's excellent highlights from the ballet on a Sheffield gold disc, then Paavo Jarvi's 2003 Telarc release of the three suites is as good a choice in this music as most any around.
Prokofiev completed his ballet in 1935, but it hardly met with instant success. The Bolshoi rejected it as too difficult to dance to, and Prokofiev presented the first two suites from the work in public before premiering the ballet itself, which didn't get an official performance until 1940. In 1946 the composer gleaned a third suite of music from the complete work, and Telarc give us all three suites on the present disc.
Since Prokofiev intended this particular music to be highly descriptive, the composer taking us carefully through Shakespeare's play practically scene by scene, he opens the score to a wide range of interpretation. I thought Jarvi sometimes seemed a bit too rushed, as in the episodes describing the young Juliet, but one can understand Jarvi's intention in showing us a very youthful, high-spirited, and perhaps immature girl. Mainly, though, Jarvi keeps his attention focused on the music and clearly establishes the nature of each character and each event.
I've always thought Suite No. 2 contained the best music, with No. 3 something of an afterthought, but Jarvi gives each piece the concentration it deserves. The only real problem is trying to follow the storyline when the suites sort of jumble up the plot events. Still, it's the music that counts, and Jarvi does well enough to convey the score's color, grace, and excitement.
The Telarc engineers recorded the music in November 2002 and February 2003 in the Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio. They appear to get some of their best sound out of the Cincinnati players, whether it's the Symphony Orchestra or its counterpart Pops ensemble, and this disc is no exception. I admit there is a degree more hall haze and bass resonance than in many of Erich Kunzel's pop-classical recordings for Telarc and consequently a little less definition, but Telarc nonetheless afford Jarvi some decent acoustics. While the bass sounds especially prominent, as it should sound in things like the "Dance of the Knights," "Montagues and Capulets," and the big death scenes, the subtler sequences are notable, too, particularly for their quiet moments. The sound is closer to that of a live, resonant musical experience than it is to typically ultra-clear audiophile-type sonics, and as such it's fine.
With all-around good performances and attractive concert-hall sound, this one makes an easy recommendation, if maybe not quite a first choice.
To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click here:
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer
For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.
For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst
I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.
Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio
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