The repertoire hardly needed duplicating, but this issue tenuously
maintains the once-common "documentary" practice of recording, mostly
in abeyance as the major labels have retrenched. Antonio Pappano is
an established, high-profile conductor whose work merits careful documentation
under controlled conditions and in good sound ... and, no, mp3 files
and YouTube videos do not
qualify as "good-sounding"! It's
easier to get the measure of an artist in well-known, rather than
unfamiliar, music. So another New World
and Cello Concerto
come down the chute, clumsily harnessed into a two-disc set.
First off, one notices the alert playing the conductor draws from
the St. Cecilia players. They respond to his direction attentively,
with an involvement that could shame a business-as-usual virtuoso
orchestra. The strings are well-blended, winds and brass are colorful
and firm, and the ensemble sonority is full-throated. Punctuating
chords are incisive, even slashing, as at the end of the symphony's
Interpretively, Pappano takes nothing for granted in the New World
phrasing with purpose, eliciting vivid, expressive colours. The slow
introduction is beautiful and affecting; in the body of the first
movement, Pappano infuses the music with a rhythmic buoyancy along
with the customary forward drive, carrying the music aloft, keeping
A similar buoyancy makes for striking passages in the two middle movements
as well. The great Largo
sounds freshly considered, solemn
and expressive; a nice "lift" underlines the unsettled quality of
the middle section, and the chirping woodwind solos at 8:38 are unusually
evocative. Similarly, the unexceptionable Scherzo
unusually lilting, light-textured rendition of the Trio
out its charm.
's reprise, a bit more nervous than the first go-round,
suggests that, in this concert, fatigue may have been setting in.
This impression is unfortunately confirmed in the finale, where much
of the playing is edgy and slightly too loud, compromising Pappano's
unusually cogent, seamless rendering of the movement, and illustrating
why studio sessions are sometimes worth the extra expense.
The Cello Concerto's orchestral introduction begins firmly enough,
but momentum begins to falter as early as the first tutti
and Pappano fusses uncharacteristically with the juicy lyrical theme
at 2:20. It turns out that he's simply being a good colleague: soloist
Mario Brunello fusses similarly with that same theme. Brunello's instincts
are musical, but his way of straining for expression can lose the
forest for the trees, with some passages nearly coming to a standstill.
Similarly, the Finale
simply seems to go on too long, although
Pappano's taut coda rouses the audience to a nice hand, anyway. Brunello
plays capably, though his tone can turn dry or thin in faster passages.
It mightn't be fair to expect the whopping sound of a Rostropovich
(EMI), but the vibrant lyricism of a Fournier (DG) or Gendron (Philips),
at least, might have been within Brunello's reach.
While the New World
- or most of it - gave me much pleasure,
this album does not rate as a "basic library" choice for either work.
Still, I'm pleased that Pappano is getting to "show his stuff" in
symphonic works as well as in opera.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and
See also review by John
Masterwork Index: Symphony
9 ~~ Cello concerto