Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet, excerpts (CD Review)

Also, Symphony No. 6. Charles Dutoit, NHK Symphony Orchestra. Decca 458 190-2.

First, a few notes of clarification. After Universal's acquisition of PolyGram, the English and American Decca labels were no longer in conflict. Thus, Decca no longer had to market its product in America under the alternative London title to avoid conflict with the unrelated American Decca label. As of the late Nineties, London Records was no more. Hello, Decca.

This no doubt sent shock waves through the audiophile community, which for the previous half century had sworn that original English Deccas sounded superior to the lowly London products sent to America. Just an observation from decades ago.

Next, Charles Dutoit was for a long time the Music Director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, then became the Principal Conductor of Japan's NHK Symphony Orchestra and England's Royal Philharmonic, facts that only struck me a few minutes into the Romeo and Juliet excerpts reviewed here. Something was not right, I said to myself. Then I looked at the jewel box. Part of my concern was related to the orchestra itself not sounding right, not as well upholstered, velvety, or smooth as the Montreal group, and part to the different venue, Tokyo in the Romeo and Juliet, Vienna in the Sixth Symphony. From this first issue with the NHK Symphony in 1999, I can't say I liked the new orchestra or the new sound very much.

Charles Dutoit
The ballet highlights sound, frankly, nondescript. They aren't completely bland, but they have relatively little color or character to them. After such noteworthy interpretations as those from Previn, Maazel, and Leinsdorf, as well as from Dutoit himself in a previous Decca recording with Montreal, these NHK readings seem almost lifeless.

The Symphony No. 6, on the other hand, appears more creatively performed, the bizarre workings of this Romeo and Juliet-cum-Shostakovich piece more vividly contrasted than the excerpts are. The symphony's opening Allegro brings mainly gloom, apparently symbolizing the Russian suffering in the Second World War. The middle movement, a broad Largo, begins in the same mood and then unexpectedly changes to one of mellowness, grace, and then perhaps sweet regret. The final section of this three-movement symphony Prokofiev marked Vivace, and it is, indeed, quick and lively. Its neoclassical exuberance may reflect an expression of relief at War's end, but this portion nevertheless concludes ambiguously. Dutoit succeeds in exacting significance from each passage.

The Decca sonics for the two pieces do not impress one as vividly as did the sound of the old Montreal recordings I was used to. The Romeo and Juliet, which Decca recorded in Japan, appears dark in the midrange, bright and edgy in the highs, and one-dimensional overall. The Symphony, recorded in Austria, seems a tad better. It sounds more flowing  and has better depth. Neither, though, can match the flattering ambiance Dutoit had always received in his Canadian location.

As a sonic reality check, I suggest a comparison of the sound of Dutoit's digital release to that of the simultaneously reissued, forty-year-older Arthur Fiedler recording, "Pops Stoppers," on RCA Living Stereo. Different material but different sonics, too. And no contest. The older disc wins hands down.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

Mission Statement

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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa