London-born Antonio Pappano is of Italian parentage but his musical
studies took place in the United States. His career and perhaps
his name took his career through the world’s opera houses:
New York City, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Chicago and Bayreuth
where assisted Barenboim for Tristan, Parsifal and
the Ring Cycle. He is currently music director of
the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
His recording honours
with EMI Classics include Massenet Manon and Werther,
Bohème, La Rondine, Tosca and Il Trittico,
Verdi Don Carlos and Il trovatore and Wagner Tristan
und Isolde. There are various orchestral discs too: Lalo Symphonie
espagnole and Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No.3 (Vengerov),
Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante and Shostakovich Cello
Concerto No.1, (Han-Na Chang), Rachmaninov Piano Concertos
Nos. 1 & 2 (Leif Ove Andsnes). He has also recorded a recital
of Wolf Lieder with Ian Bostridge.
What of his Tchaikovsky?
We launch straight into Francesca da Rimini which
in terms of a rounded listening session might better have
concluded proceedings. While spirited, Pappano is not as
awesome or fiery as say Stokowski, Markevitch, Golovanov
or Mravinsky. On the other hand his shaping of the hopeless
and gorgeously despairing love-theme of Paolo and Francesca
has operatic impact. In general the grand romantic element
rises to fuller strength rather than the whirling and braying
horror of the score. The ensemble of the strings is beyond
criticism but while satisfying their weight and sheer ‘grunt’ do
not compare with the finest.
The Pappano approach works even
better in Romeo and Juliet which receives a fine performance
in which the lyric-romantic element it to the fore. In both
the tone poems the listener is aware of the taut ensemble
and control of the orchestra even in the luxurious and lovingly
shaped theme of Romeo and Juliet. However it more
often made me think of the ballet stage rather than a symphonic
combat of the senses. If you want to hear my reference version
then you need to track down the quite exceptional 1960 LSO/Monteux
Vienna concert on Vanguard.
Speaking of stagecraft the chorus
in the Act II Waltz from Onegin leaves us in
no doubt that we are in the presence of a fine operatic conductor
and his stirring Polonaise likewise. Although the
solo voices are listed I could not hear them distinct from
the chorus in the Polonaise.
We end with what is the
finest 1812 I have ever heard complete with sonorous
and resonantly recorded chorus. Pappano invests every bar
of this score with loving care. It was written at the request
of Nikolai Rubinstein for the All-Russia Exhibition of Art
and Industry in 1882 and marked the consecration of the Moscow’s
Cathedral of the Holy Redeemer built to mark the defeat of
Napoleon’s invasion force in the year of the title. It’s
an unfashionable piece with its gunfire excesses and its
hackneyed reputation for ‘just listen to this’ hi-fi display
and Victor Hochhauser Sunday concerts. However Pappano is
worth hearing as a refreshing and joyously intense return
to this disdained score. As for the La Scala choir they have
all the massed flaming impact of a Russian choir.
EMI can be relied on for
good liner notes here supplied by Tchaikovsky expert John
Warrack who thankfully avoids the usual otiose attempts to
describe music we can hear for ourselves by the time we are
reading the notes.
Worth hearing then for
a fine Romeo, stage-aware Onegin extracts and
a superb 1812. If you are looking for something slightly
less volatile and heady than my preferred Francescas
then this will also suit very well. The whole is superbly
recorded and performed.
Pappano and EMI have lined
up the last three numbered symphonies for release in February
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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