A good, bargain Romeo and Juliet without inspiration
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 10/04/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I doubt in principle that Riccardo Muti is capable of inspiration. During his EMI heyday, for the decade he conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra as Ormandy's successor, he certainly looked the part of the dashing, aristocratic Italian maestro. Another Cantelli? Abbado? Sadly, he turned out to be an unsmiling martinet who drove music mercilessly but was quite slack in the classical repertoire--his Beethoven and Brahms couldn't be blander. EMI let him record dozens of records, and none are top choices. Now they languish on budget and super-budget lines.
This Romeo and Juliet is actually one of his better efforts. As usual with Muti, there is disciplined execution, and although it cannot be said that he is to the manner born with Berlioz (compared to Munch or Colin Davis) at least he makes a stab. Unfortunately for him, Davis recorded this piece three times and Munch twice, once in mono, once in stereo. Davis's live performance with the London Sym., available on LSO Live, is one of the veyr best things in his new Berlioz cycle (exept for a wobbly, woolly bass soloist at the end).
I value the Muti set primarily for Jessye Norman, but one can't buy a complete Romeo and Juliet just for a few mezzo arias."
It has its uses
Wayne A. | Belfast, Northern Ireland | 07/27/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Absolutely not a bad recording of R&J--I like it--but definitely a top choice if you're following the score. Many conductors--I think even to this day--play Berlioz like the composer now and then didn't know what the heck he was doing. Muti took time to straighten out and carefully adjust and balance the frequent gnarly bits in this piece, and he had the right orchestra to plough through the intimidating complexities. The dramatic opening (where the Sharks and Jets first square off) alone has seldom sounded tidier. The sound is modern.
Still there's Munch, who also had a great orchestra and seemed to drive to the core of Berlioz better than many of those more modern conductors who are often praised for their Berlioz recordings. As much as I like, say, Davis, I find myself lazily drifting back to old-timers like Munch, Monteux and Markevitch, and even Toscanini (Harold in Italy). I think the key to Berlioz (and probably any composer) is precision AND passion (and an orchestra than can turn on a dime). Modern conductors have difficulty conveying old-school passion, rather than the sort of jerky excitability that's usually managed with psychotropic pharmaceuticals.
Good thing though, otherwise Michael Torke and Tan Dun wouldn't have careers."