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MUSIC REVIEW : Words of the Bard Fail to Enhance Valentine Concert

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The words of Shakespeare have inspired a fair number of composers, both symphonic and operatic. San Diego Symphony music director Yoav Talmi was inspired to intersperse the words of the Bard into his Romeo and Juliet theme concert Thursday night at Copley Symphony Hall. All inspirations, unfortunately, are not created equal.

From Prokofiev’s popular “Romeo and Juliet” ballet score, Talmi selected a suite of six movements and juxtaposed into the sequence appropriate lines from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” spoken by a trio of actors from the Old Globe Theatre. After the orchestra performed Prokofiev’s “Balcony Scene,” for example, actor Richard Ortega bounded out to the edge of the stage to recite “What light through yonder window breaks?” to his Juliet, Therese Walden. Earlier in the concert, William Anton provided the play’s prologue and also recited the “Prince’s Coda” before the final episode from the Prokofiev Suite.

This exercise proved more than a little precious. The primary problem was one of scale, however, and the youthful actors appeared understandably self-conscious attempting to create a genuine dramatic situation in just a few lines, having little more than the conductor’s podium for a stage. Considering Prokofiev’s highly programmatic score, the minimal dramatic elaboration was redundant.

Under Talmi’s taut, disciplined direction, the orchestra played the Prokofiev score and Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” Overture-Fantasy with elan. The symphony’s rhythmic precision and its cohesive ensemble, undergirded by the solid brass sections, gave welcome definition to the Tchaikovsky chestnut, which all too frequently has been relegated to mushy, auto-pilot readings at the annual SummerPops all-Tchaikovsky night. It was refreshing to hear the Overture-Fantasy played with both drive and finesse.

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Talmi opened his Valentines Day concert with two extroverted movements from Berlioz’s infrequently played dramatic symphony “Romeo et Juliette.” The orchestra sounded less secure in this quirky, episodic piece, but now that it is in the band’s repertory, perhaps Talmi will schedule the entire work with soloists and chorus for some future Berlioz bash.

This program will be repeated at 8 p.m. tonight in Copley Symphony Hall.


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