Romeo and Juliet … Tchaikovsky 5

Prokofiev
Romeo and Juliet – Ballet, Op.64 [selection from Suites 1 & 2 – Opp.64a & 64b – by Daniele Gatti] Tchaikovsky
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Daniele Gatti


Reviewed by: David Gutman

Reviewed: 25 August, 2008
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Daniele GattiFêted abroad and under-funded at home, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s carefully rationed appearances in the capital’s bigger halls have often been devoted to standard repertoire. If that might be thought a constraint, it has not seemed so thanks to the inspirational leadership of Daniele Gatti, now winding down his association after more than a decade in charge.

Unsurprising then to find this bank holiday Prom at once playing to the partnership’s strengths and reminding us of its limitations. As promised on the BBC’s website, “Gatti’s flair for orchestral colour and emotional intensity” suited the chosen fare, the difficulty being that none of it was exactly fresh. The RPO performed a less-than-complete Romeo and Juliet under Gennadi Rozhdestvensky not so long ago and Gatti himself took the players through these same edited highlights at the 2000 Proms. The team has also given us their Tchaikovsky at the Royal Festival Hall (May 2005). And both readings have been immortalised as recordings.

While Gatti’s Prokofiev selection preserves some sense of narrative, its focus is on the developing theme of love. This precludes too much in the way of animation, though when it comes it can be thrilling: Tybalt’s death was taken at a tremendous lick. With scores and parts drawn from the Suites, only dramatically re-ordered, we were given a hypersensitive ‘Balcony Scene’ re-edit and a powerful evocation of ‘Romeo at Juliet’s tomb’.

The ultimate in precise tuning or depth of string tone may be lacking yet a very particular sensitivity was readily apparent. Textures were clean and every line sang, even when complemented by blotchy pink illuminations intended to look good on television. Without its lightweight genre episodes the ballet is arguably misrepresented but there may not be a conductor alive who takes the music per se more seriously. Small wonder that the audience remained attentive, notwithstanding a preludial gesture for mobile phone and at least one unconstrained alarm partway through. ‘Friar Laurence’ has a spring in his step. Otherwise spacious tempos were the norm and the emotional content never undersold.

Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840-93)Cooler blue hues were someone’s idea of appropriate lighting in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth. Gatti’s is a rendition of comparable originality, sparing with the orgasmic espressivo in favour of forward thrust and (needs must) lightweight sonority. Gatti launched its slow introduction in matter-of-fact style but the main body of the first movement had a more-lithe Mravinsky-like intensity. There was much sharply profiled internal detail and almost too much personalised rubato lavished on the second subject.

The horn theme of the slow movement was beautifully despatched by Laurence Davies. Elsewhere the stopped instrument could sound parched or even lavatorial. The big barn of a hall did not do much to flatter string tone or overall blend. After a delicately nuanced treatment of the waltz movement, Gatti’s exciting, carefully conceived finale deliberately and rather poignantly got bogged down before gathering itself for that inescapable, would-be optimistic blaze. There was no encore, notwithstanding the acclaim of a remarkably full house, and no clapping between movements either.

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