Rather than play any single complete suite (of the three) that Prokofiev extracted from the complete ballet, Myung-Whun Chung makes his own selection of numbers, roughly following the plot line and including music representative of all the major characters. Although some other collections offer more music, this hour of Romeo and Juliet makes a satisfying presentation on its own. What makes the performance special is the spectacular playing of the Dutch orchestra. Frankly, it's never been done better. From the whiplash virtuosity of the violins to the bite of the trombones and the firm thud of the bass drum, this is the sound the composer must have dreamed of.
Études are primarily intended as exercises to train musicians in specific techniques, but since the Romantic era they have become associated with other miniature forms, such as the prelude and the intermezzo, and frequently regarded as evocative character pieces or tonal pictures. Garrick Ohlsson's album of piano études by Claude Debussy, Sergey Prokofiev, and Béla Bartók offers a brief survey of the genre in modern practice, and demonstrates the blending of pedagogy and poetry in these works. Ohlsson has become internationally known as an exquisite interpreter of the music of Frédéric Chopin, and much of the subtlety and atmosphere found in his previous recordings is present here. Ohlsson's finesse and humor are perhaps most evident in Debussy's Études, L. 143, which have a lighter character than Prokofiev's Études, Op. 2, which tend toward the sardonic side, and Bartók's Études, Op. 18, which are intensely virtuosic and mysterious. Hyperion's recording captures the nuances of Ohlsson's playing, and the piano is close enough to hear every detail, while the acoustics lend it a pleasant natural aura.
Dutch violinist Janine Jansen has made some unorthodox recordings (check out her Vivaldi Four Seasons sometime), but here, in a work in which proportion and technique are exquisitely balanced, she plays it straight with impressive results. Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2, composed in 1935 just before his return to the Soviet Union from France, has always been a popular repertory item, but Jansen's reading, ably accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski, has a pearly quality throughout, a kind of bright ease, that comes only at the highest levels of technique.
Claudio Abbado was undeniably the supreme Mahler conductor of our time. With his Lucerne Festival Orchestra he has set new standards in the field of classical music, especially in the interpretation of works by Gustav Mahler. The core of the orchestra is provided by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, itself an élite body of players. Soloists like violinist Kolja Blacher, clarinettist Sabine Meyer, oboist Albrecht Mayer, violist Wolfram Christ, cellist Natalia Gutman, the Hagen Quartet and members of the Alban Berg Quartet to name just a few, make the Lucerne Festival Orchestra a star-studded ensemble.