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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Francesca da Rimini – symphonic fantasia after Dante, Op. 32 (1876) [23:06]
Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy Overture (1880 version) (1870 rev 1880) [20:05]
Eugene Onegin Op. 24: Waltz*; Polonaise (1879) [11:02]
1812 Overture – original version with chorus, Op. 49 (1882) [16:30]
Roberto Valentini (Captain); Mark Stone (Onegin); Nicola Matišic (Lensky) *
Orchestra e Coro Dell'Accademia Di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano
rec. 3, 5-6 December 2005; 7, 10 October 2006 (Romeo), Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 3700652 [71:13]


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, Puccini La 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 2007.
 
Rob Barnett
 

 



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