The best full version I know of Prokofiev’s score to the ballet Romeo and Juliet is the recording by Lorin Maazel with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, but this selection of excerpts, performed by Claudio Abbado with the Rome Symphony of Rai in 1968, has got to be one of the most convincing ever. The orchestra isn’t perfect, and the mandolins tend to be played a little too quickly, especially during the Dance with Mandolins – about 11:24. Abbado uses a similar tempo in his 1997 recording with the Berliner Philharmoniker, so I guess he prefers it that way. A spacier version of the Dance (literally) can be seen here, which to me captures more of the waltz-y romance in the piece.
What’s really worth watching here is young Abbado at his fiery, vivacious, best. If you only have time for a few movements, listen to the most austere treatment – and austerity is my thing – that I have seen of the Dance of the Knights (1:17 to 4:53) and the quick-footed Morning Dance right after – Russians really knew how to jig back then! For those who prefer a slow movement, look out for the immensely seductive Dance of the Girls with Lilies, from 19:41 onwards. The section from 22:11 right till the end (I believe Tybalt’s death) is the most riveting of the lot, where Abbado demonstrates, with demonic precision, his mastery of the orchestra (dare I call it otherwise?). It is a must-watch for any fan of Prokofiev.
And if anything, this is just ridiculously old school. Even Slava isn’t that bad.