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Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet – Work no. 53 in our collection

Sergei Prokofiev (23.04.1891 – 05.03.1953) was a Russian Soviet composer, pianist and conductor. He created a number of masterpieces in various genres and is one of the great composers of the twentieth century. Works to highlight include his Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op. 83, his two violin concertos, two violin sonatas, symphonies 1 and 5 and his ballet Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64.

In 1935, Sergei Prokofiev made a devil’s bargain. He returned to the Soviet Union, having receive a lucrative offer to write any opera or ballet he chose and to lead the country’s music scene. He chose to compose a Romeo and Juliet ballet, based upon William Shakespeare’s play. This led to the writing of one of the most widely appreciated dance works in the repertory and as a spin-off; a series of famous orchestral suites. The full ballet premiered in the Mahen Theatre, Brno (then in Czechoslovakia, now in the Czech Republic), on 30 December 1938. However we are more used to hearing the significantly revised version that was first presented at the Kirov Theatre (now Mariinsky Theatre) in Leningrad on 11 January 1940. This production received international acclaim and the ballet has maintained its popular position to the present day.

Our first choice recording comes from Valery Gergiev conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in a live recording on the LSO Live label.

For those looking to acquire a bargain price version you need look no further than Marin Alsop’s recently released, fine performance with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on Naxos.

If you are looking for a DVD version then you can turn to the Royal Ballet on Decca starring Carlos Acosta (as Romeo) and Tamara Rojo (as Juliet) in a 2009 recording conducted by Boris Gruzin.

View the other works in our collection.

Mozart’s Piano Quartets from Barenboim et al

Mozart: Piano Quartets

Daniel Barenboim (piano), Michael Barenboim (violin), Yiulia Deyneka (viola) & Kian Soltani (cello),

Deutsche Grammophon have assembled a wonderful ensemble for these two piano quartets. Barenboim is joined by  Yulia Deyneka who works as professor at the Barenboim-Said Academy and is the principal viola of the Berlin Staatskapelle. Michael Barenboim, who is Maestro Barenboim’s son, an acclaimed violinist and West-Eastern Divan’s concert master and the label’s recently signed cellist, Kian Soltani.

This oddly neglected instrumental combination, piano with string trio, inspired Mozart to pen these mature works that can be regarded as being the first masterpieces of the genre. Daniel Barenboim and his assembled group play with a sense of adventurousness, quite appropriate in a live performance, but miss nothing of Mozart’s exquisite detail in these pieces that show Mozart at his most fetching. Daniel Barenboim’s piano playing is full of elegance and his colleagues play with mature imagination and the playful exchanges in the final movement of the Piano Quartet No. 2 in E flat major, K493 are realised superbly. In these performances one is able to appreciate the rich textures and the wide range of sonorities that Mozart seems to have delighted in. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable hour of listening to a pair of Mozart’s masterpieces.

iClassical rating: 

Beautifully detailed Mahler 4 from Gatti

Mahler: Symphony No. 4 in G major

Julia Kleiter (soprano), Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Daniele Gatti (conductor).

This is Daniele Gatti’s second recording of the most idyllic, the most pastoral, the most restful of Mahler’s nine numbered symphonies. His first was performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the soloist Ruth Ziesak who turned in an outstanding performance in the final movement.

This version was recorded live with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam in November 2017 and features the soprano Julia Kleiter. This is a delightfully detailed and sweeping performance of the work; though some listeners might consider Gatti to have micro-managed the performance. Once again Gatti directs a performance in which the soloist’s contribution is magnificent. The sound is very good, especially in the high resolution download.

Overall then a pleasing performance but I’m not sure that the market really needed a second Mahler 4 from Gatti. Our top recommendation remains the excellently engineered performance by Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra on Channel Classics. Once again this contains some heavenly singing in the finale, this time from from the soprano Miah Persson. Read more about our recommended version here.

iClassical rating: 

Outstanding debut recording from Lozakovich

J S Bach: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Daniel Lozakovich (violin), Kammerorchester des Symphonieorchesters des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Radoslaw Szulc (leader).

Daniel Lozakovich was born in Stockholm in 2001 and began playing the violin when he was almost seven. He made his solo debut two years later with the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra and Vladimir Spivakov in Moscow. Subsequently Daniel has performed with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, the Moscow Philharmonic, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestras, the Orchestre National de France and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. In 2014 he achieved second prize in the Junior section of the 2014 Menuhin Competition in Austin, Texas. In 2016, aged 15, he signed a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon, then the youngest musician signed to DG. This is his debut recording on which he performs Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, BWV1041Violin Concerto No. 2 in E major, BWV1042 and the Partita for solo violin No. 2 in D minor, BWV1004.

Daniel clearly has a stunning technique, well-nigh perfect intonation, and an excellent bowing technique that enables him to produce a wonderfully pure sound. In the two violin concertos he delivers a performance way beyond his years and shows that he is a thoughtful young musician who has considered these works carefully. Nowadays we are nearly always presented with works by Bach recorded on period-instruments. Here we have a recording on modern instruments delivered with a sense of period style². Daniel Lozakovich plays a 1713 violin, in modern tuning, and according to the accompanying booklet, he also directs the orchestra¹.

Whilst the second partita is excellently played, and shows another side of the young performer, I’m uncertain as to whether this is an appropriate filler. For me it does not follow on naturally from the two concertos and for many purchasers it might not hold the same appeal. Nonetheless I would welcome hearing Daniel performing more of Bach’s works for solo violin.

To sum up we have excellent solo playing from a highly talented young violinist who blends well with the chamber orchestra. Lozakovich gives us an uncompromising performance and has clearly got much to say about performing Bach. The sound quality from Deutsche Grammophon is very good indeed and further enhances one’s listening pleasure. In a highly competitive field this release would not be my first choice for any of these works but it is more than just a stunning debut album and has much to offer those who prefer a non-HIP performance of Bach. DG’s talent spotters have once again done an excellent job and I await further releases featuring Daniel with great enthusiasm.

iClassical rating: 

¹ The album notes advise that the ‘youthful violinist is not only seeking to perform as partners with the orchestra – he also strives to “make chamber music together.” This takes place without a conductor, in direct communication with the chamber orchestra of
the Bavarian Radio Symphony.’

² If you enjoyed Neville Marriner’s pioneering recordings of these concertos with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields then this is a great follow-up.

Fine debut recording from Tengyue Zhang

Guitar recital – Tengyue Zhang

Tengyue Zhang (guitar)

Tengyue Zhang was born in Hebei, China and began to study classical guitar at the age of five with his father. In 2012, he was accepted into The Juilliard School undergraduate programme, and studied there with Sharon Isbin. In 2017, he won the Guitar Foundation of America (GFA) International Concert Artist Competition, in a field of wonderful players.

For his his debut recording, on Naxos, Tengyue Zhang offers us an interesting and skilfully selected recital that contains works ranging from the Baroque period through to the twentieth century. It begins with two baroque pieces, from D Scarlatti and J S Bach, in arrangements by the young guitarist. We are then treated to Alexandre Tansman’s Variations on a Theme of Scriabin. Next up are two  of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Caprichos de Goya, followed by Brouwer’s Rito de los Orishas. The recital concludes with a piece by one of the most prolific and recognised living composers for the guitar, the Brazilian guitarist/composer Sérgio Assad. Aquarelle was the first solo-guitar piece to be written by Assad and it has subsequently become well-known, featuring in the repertoire of many guitarists around the world. The work is written in three movements, Divertimento, Valseana and Preludio e toccatina, with the outer movements based upon a three-note music cell.

These varied pieces provide a wide-ranging showcase for Tengyue Zhang and on this evidence he is a consummate performer who thinks deeply about the music that he plays. Here we get over an hour of beautiful guitar playing with Tengyue Zhang displaying an underlying virtuosity that is not showy but simply in the service of the music. Naxos are to be praised for their wonderful Laureate Series and this latest release is no exception.

I, for one, will be watching closely to see how this talented young guitarist’s career develops. I would urge all lovers of classical guitar playing to seek out this release; you will not be disappointed.