Romeo and Juliet – Ballet, Op.64
Reviewed by: Richard Landau
Reviewed: 18 April, 2016
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
What a happy idea this was, to mark the 125th-anniversary of Prokofiev’s birth and the 400th of Shakespeare’s death (he was also born on April 23) with a concert performance of the composer’s ballet-score inspired by the Bard’s incomparable tale of woe. We were treated to a masterful account of the music, delivered by an orchestra that – like its conductor – has for many years lived and breathed its every facet.
Cadogan Hall was not, perhaps, the most obvious choice for a large-orchestra work like this, and early on I did wonder whether the venue would be able to contain the demands about to be made on it. But the ears quickly adjusted (much was gained in terms of intimacy) and the score was unfolded with such impact that by the close, three hours later, one could only feel thoroughly drained.
Valery Gergiev’s deep rapport with the Mariinsky Orchestra, built over three decades, ensured that the story was told to perfection; and the playing was wonderfully secure, whether ardent and passionate strings (including ear-catching delicate violas), superb woodwinds and brass throughout (with significant solo contributions, not least clarinets, flutes, trumpet, and the distinctive Nikolai Slepnev on tuba).
From the lightness of ‘Young Juliet’, to the jauntiness of ‘Romeo and Mercutio’ and the ‘Dance with Mandolins’ (the latter very characterful from guests James Ellis and Nigel Woodhouse), via the relentless violence of ‘Death of Tybalt’, through to the cataclysmic, literally shuddering, depiction of the lovers’ tragic deaths, one was filled with fresh admiration for the brilliance of Prokofiev’s achievement. It was a huge pleasure to experience such memorable music making.