I own around 10, 11, 12 recordings of Prokofiev's wonderful "Romeo and Juliet" and this one beats them all. From the opening notes of the first track, "The Montagues and Capulets," this recording will take you away. The playing is passionate and Mitropoulos is totally committed to the work, not holding back a darned thing. Extraordinary!
For those of you who were born after the LP era, these recrodings are new, but a lot of us owned them in orginal LP and have been looking for them ever since. I received this album from a family friend when I was 14, and I played it to death. I still have the LP, though it's badly worn, so I was thrilled to find it in CD. Over the years I sampled other recordings, and many of them were pretty good, but I never heard anyone nail these pieces better than Dimitri Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic. These are excerpts of the ROMEO AND JULIET ballet rather than the entire suite, and I actually prefer it this way. These excerpts capture the best of this ballet, and the arrangement is perfect. Add Mussorgsky's NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN and Prokofiev's LIEUTENTANT KIJE SUITE, and you have a wonderful collection.
This one should be the standard by which all other performances and recordings of Prokofiev's ROMEO AND JULIET are measured. I'm very happy I found it again.
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To the general music public the name of Dmitri Mitropoulos is nearly forgotten. He had the mistfortune to die at the premature age of 64 (while conducting) in 1960, leaving behind a legacy of LPs that was mostly in mono and none too plentiful. Nor was his tenure with the NY Phil. before the heralded arrival of Leonard Bernstein (a personal disciple) any great success. The fact is that Mitropoulos, a fiery Greek , mystical by temperament, and openly gay, was an outsider. Yet his name always comes up whenever a short list of great twentieth-century conductors is compiled.
This CD offers an appealing introduction to his art. The main item, nine selections from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, is one of the best every recorded, full of expression, tenderness, and insight. It's also in good Fifties stereo, now well remastered by Sony. The two filllers are Russian chestnuts from the pops category. the Lt. Kije Suite is brash and energetic but in fairly screechy mono. It can't really compete with Reiner's classic rendition on RCA. Fortuntely, The Night on Bald Mountain, played in the usual Rimsky-Korsakov arrangement, is in decent stereo. Mitropoulos is fairly reserved here, at least compared to a barnstormer like Stokowski, and I'm not sure he had much interest in the piece.
So if you want best sound for the Romeo and Juliet, this is the version to get. Otherwise you can buy it on a bargain Sony release coupled with a Rite of Spring from Mehta and the NY PHil. that boasts vivid sonics and lots of dynamic impact.
Some dance lovers might be amused to know that the cover photo for the LP was originally chosen by Columbia with no knowledge of who was pictured, thus treating dance lovers to the delicious prospect of Merce Cunningham and Carolyn Brown as Romeo and Juliet without any understanding of how improbable that idea was. The run of the album had to be done all over again when it was pointed out to them that the photograph was of known figures. Previously they had been uncredited. I am assuming the CD gives proper credit. The performance by Mitropoulos, by the way, is excellent.
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