Testament SBT 1394 72:06 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi)****:
The third in the Erich Leinsdorf survey of Prokofiev scores, these inscriptions date 13 February 1967 (Romeo) and 22 April 1968 (Lt. Kije). Remarkable for their fluency and orchestral sheen, the recordings review music dear to the Boston Symphony, especially as Koussevitzky, Munch, and Leinsdorf each made passes at the most luxurious of all ballet scores. It always impresses me how Prokofiev manages his own, idiosyncratic musical syntax while absolutely conveying the antique, Renaissance atmosphere of Verona. Leinsdorf selects sixteen numbers from the ballet according to his own taste and sense for dramatic structure, and each percolates with rhythm and color.
Romeo and Mercutio Masked (with Mitropoulos, who recorded only nine excerpts) was the very first piece I ever broadcast over WHRW-FM in Binghamton, back in 1966. Leinsdorf urges its perky colors and intimations of heartbreak with tender passion. No one could squeeze metaphysical agony out of the Dance of the Knights as Mitropoulos could, but Leinsdorf does a creditable job, here and in the Introduction (No. 37) to the tragedy’s coda, with bass horns, battery, and diviso strings clamoring for dominance, with the saxophone’s striking timbre in the mix. The Gavotte must suffice as our only hint of the Classical Symphony in these restorations, since Testament did not bring the whole score back. Nice brass and harp work here. At Romeo’s Variation (No. 20), we have the searing passion that will infiltrate the Love Music (No. 21) which concludes Act I. Plucked strings and oboe, then a brassy march–shades of Kurt Weill–make the Dance of the Five Couples tingle to open Act II’s suite. The festivities end at Tybalt’s Death, all pulverizing ostinati and running 16th notes. The Last Farewell (No. 39) is juxtaposed against Tybalt’s death throes, an elegant move. The Aubade and Dance of the Girls with Lilies project wonderful delicacy of effect, a sonic respite from the visceral torment involved in the destruction of innocence. Juliet’s Funeral (No. 51), the most extended excerpt and rife with “fate” motifs, pulsates with raw, haunted power.
The parody of political bureaucracy, Lt. Kije (1933), is another BSO staple, with Koussevitzky having made a fine inscription for RCA shellacs. Leinsdorf educes any number of kaleidoscopic colors from the BSO, especially the opening Birth of Kije; and Leinsdorf utilizes the vocal baritone solo (David Clatworthy, uncredited?) version for the Romance, The Little Grey Dove is Cooing and for the Troika. The infectious Wedding and Troika sections show off the BSO brass, winds (especially the piccolo and flute), and battery as, along with the Chicago Symphony sections, the best in the country at the time. The finale, with its sentimental survey of former themes, projects a tongue-in-cheek answer to Gounod’s Funeral March for a Marionette. Delightful deviltry and exquisite orchestral definition here from “The Aristocrat of Orchestras.”