Marin Alsop conducts Romeo and Juliet

Marin Alsop

By Michael Quinn

Marin Alsop follows her acclaimed survey of Prokofiev’s symphonies with a beautifully realised account – full of pulse-quickening drama, mischievous wit and heart-on-sleeve emotion – of his masterpiece ballet, Romeo and Juliet.

It is heard here in its 1939 revision in a performance of thrilling immediacy. Notable from the off is Alsop’s sureness of touch, clarity of expression and a supple way with tempi that never forgets this is music to be danced to. Her pacing is fleet yet never rushed (she’s quicker but less incessant than Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra at full throttle on Philips), the momentum beautifully maintained by a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra playing at the top of its game with richly detailed textures and pristine tone.

A graceful pulling of focus between the ballet’s big set-pieces and moments of romance and tragedy makes for compelling listening while managing to be both sweepingly grand and searingly intimate. Above all, it brims with character and emotion, the Baltimore strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion each making standout contributions, noticeably so in the satisfying muscular menace lent to the testosterone-charge of ‘Dance of the Knights’, the delightful, carnival burlesque that lights up the ‘Dance with Mandolins’ and the baleful, sour-sweet beauty of ‘Juliet’s Funeral’.

Alsop brings a more polished gloss to proceedings than Mark Ermler’s Covent Garden orchestra (Conifer) and compares favourably with André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra (EMI) for sheer beauty of sound and effusive lyricism.

There’s a hint of Alsop’s onetime mentor, Leonard Bernstein, in the characterful portrait of Mercutio and biting syncopation of ‘The Duel’, but she’s wholly her own in the delightfully spry poise of the Gavotte, the richly animated depiction of ‘Public Merrymaking’, haunting beauty of ‘Juliet Alone’ and hushed horror and liquid lament of ‘Juliet’s Death’.

Read the full review.