Romeo and Juliet – Ballet, Op.64
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel
Reviewed: 21 November, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
You can’t blame the members of the London Symphony Orchestra grinning from ear to ear on the day a poll of music critics voted the LSO the fourth-best orchestra in the world with the Philharmonics of Vienna and Berlin and the Royal Concertgebouw just ahead. It’s ample recognition for a band that just goes from strength to strength. And on the basis of this performance, the only way is up.
Along with a few other such full-length works, Prokofiev’s version of Romeo and Juliet is one of a handful of ballets that can sustain a concert-only performance. Stripped of visuals, Prokofiev’s score becomes a work of dazzling melodic invention and lyrical beauty.
Gergiev and the LSO’s performance was simply magnificent, not just in the quality of the orchestral playing but in the range of colours and delicacy Gergiev drew from his players which almost made the lack of choreography irrelevant. The LSO responded with playing of enormous refinement, the strings making the ‘Funeral’ and ‘Death’ of Juliet almost unbearably moving; and there was also ‘Russian’ bite, such in ‘Death of Tybalt’ to close Act Two, the massive orchestral thuds chillingly brutal.
Gergiev never forgets – some do – that this is dance music. Hence the strong rhythmic pulse that flowed through every bar of this performance. Syncopated rhythms were taut and snappy, other dances propelled forward by keen accenting, and the ubiquitous ‘Dance of the Knights’ faster and more striding than usual, very much in the Mravinsky style. Only occasionally did Gergiev let things slip: the brass could be slightly overwhelming on occasions, the Minuet marking the arrival of the guests at the ball required more finesse, and ‘Dance with Mandolins’ lacked thrust.
This was an evening of outstanding playing – from all. Yet it was the strings that particularly shone; rarely has the lovers’ music at the end of Act One soared with such ardent passion – one highlight in a performance of unalloyed musical pleasure.