Riccardo Muti

Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet Suites 1 & 2

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When Riccardo Muti was appointed music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, there was hope that the jut-jawed, hard-eyed Italian could revive the brilliant orchestra of Leopold Stokowski after its long, slow decline under Eugene Ormandy. That hope was cruelly thwarted when EMI began to release recordings by Muti and the Philadelphia. As these 1981 recordings of the first two suites from Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet demonstrate, the sloppy and indolent Philadelphia of Ormandy's final years responded to the mighty Muti by playing with a focused but coarser tone, with a unified but cruder attack, with a tighter but rougher ensemble. Worse yet, for the magisterial Muti, the Philadelphia played the love music from the suites with a lascivious tone that would have made Juliet blush. Worst of all, in the 1984 recording of Respighi's Pines of Rome, the Philadelphia and Muti conspire together to produce a performance of unsurpassed pomposity and vulgarity. Taken together, these performances testify to the continued decline of what had once been one of the best orchestras in the country. EMI's early digital sound is hard, loud, and edgy.

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