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on 17 April 2010
Valery Gergiev returned after twenty years to re-record Sergei Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet". His first attempt with the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre remains one of the best around, a full-blooded, dramatically exciting reading but also one balanced by warmth and tenderness in the more romantic passages of the score. Now heading the London Symphony Orchestra we get a new full-length live recording, culled from two concerts at the London Barbican in November 2008.

Overall it is a very different experience and if we only had to consider the audio quality this new "Romeo and Juliet" might have been a clear first choice. LSO Live offers spectacular stereo and multi-channel mixes, somewhat dry but pleasantly expansive and with superb detail. The London Symphony Orchestra undoubtedly is the better ensemble of the two, but that doesn't necessarily mean it sounds better. The distinctive sound of the Russian orchestra (not to mention its familiarity with the score through performance practice) serves this music in ideal fashion, especially with gorgeously colored woodwinds, brass and percussion - and Gergiev knew how to make them sound. Yet, if this new LSO disc doesn't eventually replace the older one, it is mainly because of Gergiev's conducting.

Where Gergiev's Mariinsky recording had a natural flow, here he sounds often studied, even labored, and you start wondering if the music is ever going to take flight. As usual there are several moments of spotlighting, details in the orchestration one never noticed before, intriguing in themselves but as it turns out at the expense of the symphonic sweep and the characterization. By this approach the ballet is turned into one of these voluminous Russian novels where you get so much information in each chapter, you're bound to lose the broad lines. In this respect this "Romeo and Juliet" becomes rather tough to sit through. It's when Prokofiev is at his most evocative that Gergiev is often the most disappointing, like the awakening street at the beginning of Act 1, or the blossoming of love between Romeo and Juliet at the ball, where nothing much exciting seems to be happening - and which are handled with so much more imagination in the earlier recording. Gergiev also has slowed down on many occasions, sometimes to the point of sluggishness. What to make of that lethargic Dance with the mandolins (#25) ? Or a Mercutio with leaden feet (#15) ? Compared to his Mariinsky version the new one is often lacking in bite and dramatic momentum. "Romeo decides to avenge Mercutio's death" and "Finale" (#35, 36) is now strangely undramatic, almost laidback (in spite of that unwarranted accelerando during the big chords), while the previous account had an urgency and sense of purpose which made you see the scene in front of your eyes. Act 3 with its chamber music-like scoring, reflecting Juliet's changes of moods, fares perhaps best of all, but even here Gergiev is never a first choice.

Gergiev can be a magician in concert, but here the magic is mostly absent. First choices for the complete ballet score remain unchanged: Lorin Maazel with the Cleveland Orchestra, with a razor-sharp, intense reading which grabs you by the throat at every page (and a stunning analogue recording to boast), Seiji Ozawa with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with a glowingly passionate and elegant account, and, oh yes, Valery Gergiev with the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre.
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on 5 April 2011
You'd really expect Valery Gergiev to be able to give a special account of Romeo and Juliet, but this is thrilling edge-of-the-seat stuff. The standard of musicianship in every single section of the LSO is exceptional. The fight at the end of Act 2 in particular is one of the most exciting and things I have ever heard - it really makes me wish I could play the trumpet. Typically excellent sound from producer James Mallinson.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 February 2010
The Philips Kirov/Gergiev has been the obvious 1st choice for the complete score of this magnificent work-true, there is little competition but it would stand up well against ANY competition-especially the re-mastered issue in the "50th " set.
So is there any merit in considering this new LSO Live recording as an alternative or an add-on?
The answer is a qualified yes. LSO Live recordings vary in sound quality from simply awful (e.g Elgar 3rd Symphony/Davis) to rather good, if not brilliant (e.g Les Troyens/Davis).
The much praised and award -winning Gergiev set of Prokofiev Symphonies was a massive disappointment to me, sonically and artistically-sonically very constricted, performances dull.
This set is much better-the sound is still a touch dry, but there is much more space and detail than normal, and overall it is the best I have heard from this source-so the sound is fine!
The performance is RADICALLY different from the earlier one-much faster in general, less tempo variations in some numbers, much more in others.There are in addition extra numbers and additions to numbers, so there is more music than previously-ballet scores from Russia in this era vary enormously from edition to edition, as music was added for some preformances, removed from others.
So texturally it is interesting.
Gergiev's reading is very exciting at these often breakneck speeds, and the LSO play like demons (or angels?) with the weight of percussion and Heavy brass very well caught. Try the Dance of The Knights (yes, the Theme from the Apprentice UK!) and if you find that speed to your liking, you'll like it all well enough. For me, it's an interesting adjunct to his earlier reading which to my taste is still first choice-but this is a terric performance and and a pretty good recording. It's a tremendous bargain at amazon's price, so on those grounds alone I would advise everyone to buy it-if you are only going to invest in one recording, then the Krov (Maryinsky) is a wonderful performance and a superb recording and would be first choice. Best advice-get them both and enjoy comparing. If you've got the earlier set, go for this one too.It is certainly different enough to warrant it. Stewart Crowe.
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on 7 April 2011
This ticks all the boxes of an excellent recording. The sound is fabulous, and the variety in timbre is exquisite. The dynamic spectrum is broad and I find the articulation delightful in its accuracy and attention to detail. Romeo & Juliet in particular is a great title for someone looking for an introduction to classical ballet music. It is instantly appealing and memorable and also of the highest standard played by what must be the greatest orchestra in the world, the LSO, led by the greatest and ever charismatic conductor, Valery Gergiev. This recording welcomes you into Prokofiev's rich, vibrant and unique sound world. From start to finish this is a winning production.
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on 6 April 2011
Composing music for ballet often seems to bring out the best in composers, especially Prokofiev. His symphonies and operas are rewarding but require serious listening. Romeo and Juliet however is a work of creative genius, packed with some of the most recognisable and appealing music ever written for orchestra. Every time you hear it, you come across a new detail or melody. Perhaps it is down to the subject, one of Shakespeare's simplest yet most emotive storylines. Whereas most composers have struggled to adapt the bard's works for opera, Prokofiev revels in composing music for dancers.

Not that you can imagine many ballet dancers being happy to perform with Valery Gergiev conducting a performance like this. In places it is too fast for dancing, in others too slow, but it is all the better for it! With a performance like this, you don't need people on stage to tell the story. I doubt whether I would cry at the tragic ending if I were watching the ballet in a theatre, but I felt tears welling up in my eyes listening to this.

I own two other versions (Previn and Maazel) but both are old and whilst good performances, I've no need for them now. This album makes both sound lifeless and sonically it is far superior, crucially with a much wider dynamic range.

If anybody thinks classical music is boring, I would strongly urge them to listen to this recording. Valery Gergiev may be crazy, but he's a crazy genius.
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on 5 April 2011
This is Gergiev in his element - you can practically feel the passion burst through the speakers. A must-have recording of this exquisite work.
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on 12 April 2011
A real opportunity to hear the LSO in full voice under Gergiev - I'd seen the Youtube footage with LSO excerpts before I bought the recording and while you lose the images of Gergiev and the LSO players throwing themselves into the performance, the finished recording captures the energy you can see on screen.

I don't know much about the various versions of the ballet - I'd played a few movements here and there and there seem to be at least three suites from the full ballet. The selection here takes in all the well known favourites and throws in some little known movements to present a fuller version of the story which feels well paced to me.

The exuberant LSO sound is there for the big set pieces - Montagues and Capulets, Death of Tybalt - but the lesser known and more refelctive movements receive real care with some really special solo playing across the orchestra.

A great recording from a group of musicians who clearly enjoy what they do!
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on 5 April 2011
What a fabulous recording! Full of energy, gusto and passion. Dance of the Knights is exceptional. Listen to that brass! And those screaming strings, utterly thrilling! Gergiev - the master - champions Prokofiev's finest ballet. Turn it up good and loud and be prepared to be blown away. An immensely enjoyable production all round.
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on 13 July 2014
I already have a recording of this piece that I really love with Cleveland and Maazel. I always wished for a new recording in SACD quality that is as good: Here it is! The sound is amazing, how the recording engineer managed the dull barbican hall to sound like this I don't know.
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on 1 June 2011
Superlatives everywhere. Prokoviev's complete ballet score, the LSO under Gergiev coupled with superb recording quality. Make sure you listen to each CD undisturbed so you can let your imagination run riot.
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