Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9, in E minor, op. 95 From the New World [44:05]
Cello Concerto in B minor [42:30]
Mario Brunello (cello).
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia - Roma/Antonio Pappano
rec. Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome. November 2011 (Symphony) and January 2012 (Concerto)
EMI CLASSICS 9141022 [44:05 + 42:30]
I really do struggle as to where I should begin with this one. Anyway, here goes.
Any artistic value that these performances may have in their favour is compromised by microphone placement decisions that I personally find unacceptable. It's so closely recorded that every little movement of each player is captured and there's a loud sniff every few seconds along with heavy breathing. I assume this to be from the conductor. Audience noises are captured in the distance throughout but it’s the shuffling, clicking and bumping on the stage that wears you down. Music needs to emerge from silence to have its true impact. Concentration is destroyed with background levels such as this. There’s also clearly lots of knob-twiddling going on and every section sounds mixed, artificial and overdubbed. It brings to mind the worst excesses of Decca Phase Four. This is not what an orchestra sounds like. The strings have a first desk quality about them and the dynamic range is such that the climaxes sound compressed and two dimensional. The brass section doesn’t impose itself. Woodwind solos are brought forward unashamedly thus removing any natural front-to-back perspective. What gets to me is that Mercury were producing fabulous recordings (ditto Everest) in the late 1950s with a 3 microphone set-up. Here we are in 2012 faced with products such as this. I wonder if some of the engineers involved in the project are pop music trained? Maybe EMI should sit them down and play them some of their Bishop/Parker sessions from the 1970s (Previn’s recordings, maybe) to hear what an EMI recording should sound like. They should then let them listen to the Rostropovich recording of the Cello Concerto on DG (still the benchmark) and the stunning Kertesz New World on Decca. Both of these recordings are very long in the tooth now but they put this latest effort to shame. The DG is smooth and elegant. The Decca is full of detail and bite.
Having just about ruled this issue out of court because of its technical shortcomings it’s only fair to mention the standard of playing. It’s good enough for EMI to whisk the performers away and re-record the whole session again under studio conditions to capture the glorious sound of a symphony orchestra. Pappano has done wonders with his orchestra and their New World interpretation is very romantic and warm. Some may find the playing a little too indulgent here and there but it’s all done very tastefully and tremendous care has been taken in its preparation. It would have been a joy to hear it live. The final clanger comes at the end. There is virtually no silence between the last fading chord of the symphony and the applause. The moment is ruined. Has the applause been edited in afterwards? It sounds fishy.
In the concerto, Mario Brunello’s cello is captured as part of the orchestral fabric but the stereo image shifts around all over the place. The great horn tune in the first movement is milked to death but it exactly matches the way the theme is presented by the soloist later on. It’s consistent but a bit over the top. The engineering again undermines the atmosphere of the slow movement which is a shame yet playing of the soloist ismost beautifully crafted. The finale is delivered with flair but those wonderful Dvořák orchestral climaxes are not allowed to ring out properly, thus removing all the excitement. The musicians deserved better. I would love to hear more of Brunello in the future. Unless you can listen through high levels of background noise and don’t mind being stuck in the middle of an artificial sounding orchestra this isn’t for you.  

John Whitmore 

Brings to mind the worst excesses of Phase Four. 

Masterwork Index: Cello concerto ~~ Symphony 9