I played Romeo and Mercutio Masked from Mitropoulos’ arrangement of Prokofiev’s luscious score on the very first radio program I ever broadcast for WHRW-FM in Binghamton, New York. What I have always admired in this 1957 suite (from MS 6023) is the way Mitropoulos (1896-1960) balances the extreme passion he brings to the score with the delicacy of the music’s often antique or rustic sensibility. Even in this conductor’s imposing catalogue of superheated performances, the opening chords from The Montagues and the Capulets occupy a special place on the surface of the sun. No less compelling are the Balcony Scene and its exquisite agony, and the throes of Tybalt, mortally wounded by Romeo’s vengeance for Mercutio. Some years ago, CBS issued this suite (coupled with Mehta’s Rite if Spring) minus Juliet–The Little Girl. All is deliciously restored, even the cover art featuring Merce Cunningham. The sense of impending and imminent tragedy permeates every bar in Mitropoulos’ reading, which is always athletically, viscerally incisive. The orchestral definition has now become smartly trenchant, where flute, saxophone, tympani, brass, and those exquisite string lines pierce our souls.
Mitropoulos recorded the parodic Lt. Kije Suite 9 January 1956 (ML 5161), and a witty, exalted reading it is. The bass fiddle playing that opens the Romance reminds us of Mahler’s D Major with Mitropoulos. Kudos to trumpet James Vacchiano and the rest of the brass and fife sections. Rhythmically, Mitropoulos is immaculate in Prokofiev. The incandescence Mitropoulos could bring to Prokofiev’s music enjoys a unique luster, and CBS would do well to upgrade the D Major Violin Concerto with Stern (ML 5243) to this level of sonic splendor.
Moussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain (11 November 1957) under Mitropoulos is meant to rival Stokowski’s equally extraordinary reading for RCA (LM 1816) with many of the same New York Philharmonic personnel who appear here. Typical of Mitropoulos, the performance relishes the demonic aspects, its Lisztian fervor. Trumpet and oboe work is quite deft, the strings, even col legno, are quite pointed in this restoration. Lovers of Disney’s Fantasia or those who recall that Bela Lugosi did the Satanic miming for Disney artists will easily conjure his image. My own recommendation would have been to add Tchaikovsky’s Slavonic March to this Russian mix, or perhaps resurrect the never-issued Kodaly Galanta Dances that remain entombed in the Columbia vaults.
— Gary Lemco