Ballet scores don't come any better than this. Prokofiev's score is an order of magnitude greater than Tchaikovsky's, and this classic version by Previn and the LSO does full justice to superlative music. It is intelligent, sensual and witty and offers outstanding value.
Prokofiev's score manages to match Shakespeare's drama in its intensity, complexity and economy. A notable feature of the play is its time compression. In the world of the play, all the action takes place in three or four days. In stage-time, this is reduced to a mere trice: 'the two-hour's traffic of our stage'. In Prokofiev's version, ideas come equally thick and fast - and enough of them to last most composers a lifetime. What's more, like the play, the ballet score is full of contrasts: ravishing harmonies one minute and equally delicious discords the next. Subtle undertones, like the threatening bass-line at the opening of No 19 (Balcony scene), do the job of Shakespearean double entendre - 'Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man'.
Previn's LSO version is well able to cope with all these subtleties and contrasts. As well as the poetry, wit and violence of both play and score, Romeo and Juliet is also extremely coarse: witness the Nurse's vulgarities and the whole Elizabethan fixation with the bawdy and profane. The earthy raspberry in number 17 reflects this. Elsewhere, the Balcony scene (again) features an organ solo whose tones are distant, eerie and sepulchral, combining the ideas of marriage and funeral. The upper strings in No 35, meanwhile (Romeo decides to avenge Mercutio's death), convincingly evoke slashing swords. By such means does Previn bring us closer to the atmosphere of Shakespeare's play.
The notes tell us that the original recording was made in 1973. The digital remastering of 1987 has preserved the exuberance and vitality of an excellent recording. It may be a bit long in the tooth, but so is the woeful story of Juliet and her Romeo.