Dvořák
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104
Mario Brunello (cello)

Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Sir Antonio Pappano

Recorded 26-28 November 2011 (Symphony) and 21 & 23-24 January 2012 in Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
CD No: EMI CLASSICS
9 14102 2 (2 CDs)
Duration: 87 minutes
Reviewed: October 2012
A release from Antonio Pappano and his superb, giving everything, Rome-based Santa Cecilia Orchestra is always an event – as reviews on Classical Source consistently report irrespective of the writer (selected links below) – and this Dvořák collection is no exception with performances that remind of the greatness and chameleon qualities of this music.
A pregnant sense of audience anticipation opens Pappano’s explanation of the ‘New World’ Symphony. Expectantly and expressively phrased from the outset, this pensive slow introduction is dramatically interrupted by baleful horns and woodwinds, bitingly emphatic strings and crisp, hard-hitting timpani. Pappano is of course a man of the theatre. The exposition (convincingly repeated) is notably lively and also warmly shaped, and with some persuasive leeway for what might be termed the (flute-led) third subject. This is fresh, sympathetically and vividly detailed music-making, thrilling but not coarse, loving but not smothered. The following and famous Largo is broadly paced, the cor anglais solo notably poetic and dynamically traced and complemented; a very sensitive reading, the movement as a whole exquisitely sketched.
The scherzo enjoys incisive rhythmic bounce (and also a clarinet line not always heard as transparently as this), relaxing for an affectionate second part, and then with a trio that bills and coos delightfully with even the normally irritating triangle a distant tinkle. The finale is exhilarating with strong accents, clear cross-rhythms, dynamics wide and varied, forceful horns and a beguiling clarinet solo; the gently clashed cymbals (1’47-1’50, an important and solitary subtlety) is well-judged in touch, length and colour, and the final bars have elating swing. It’s a shame then that the closing diminuendo is intruded upon by too-soon applause (edited in?) which would have been better removed to leave us in suspended silence.
Above all, in a performance notably well prepared, there is an enveloping sense of ‘let’s go for it’ spontaneity. A superb account, then, that is recommendable alongside such wonderful renditions as those conducted by Kempe (the Proms relay on BBC Legends), Colin Davis (his Amsterdam version), Kondrashin (Vienna PO/Decca) and Bernstein (his controversial but inspired Israel taping on DG). You can trip over a performance of the ‘New World’ Symphony every day of the week – with a routine that diminishes it – but here a genuine masterwork is dusted down and given with full emotional thrust, all of the composer’s angst, pain and sadness brought out (as Bernstein did) in music easy to take for granted and far from being the picturesque piece it is often presented as. The cover photo's gathering storm clouds over Monument Valley is not inappropriate.
Applause also greets the recital of the Cello Concerto (also dating from Dvořák’s academic three-year sojourn in New York), which is much more agreeable given the work’s tempestuous conclusion. Nevertheless, the recording (a little more ambient and brighter than for the symphony – the production team is the same though) gives some pause for thought regarding the positioning of the cellist. Mario Brunello is little further to the left than you might expect and balanced more into the orchestra than normal, even by natural concert-hall standards. Maybe Brunello was positioned so as to have eye-contact and technical liaison with Pappano to ensure absolute togetherness for the microphones – achieved – but it’s sometimes a bit difficult to pin the cellist down. It could be that he sways every which way while playing!
But forgetting all this, Brunello is a very fine – and individual – musician, deft, brilliant, muscular and tonally varied (from sinewy to mahogany-deep), treating scales as legato and distended, and tenderly expressive. He also secures a good Rostropovich-like glissando in the first movement (from 12’26); one of those moments! Certainly Brunello is in parity with the orchestra, even slightly lost at times (including on headphones) although such equilibrium really ensures an absolute appreciation of the interrelationship between cello and woodwinds; and Pappano has lavished as much care and attention on the concerto, not least articulations in the strings (violins are antiphonal), as he has the symphony.
He sticks with Brunello come what may, and there is some waywardness on the soloist's part, albeit brought off with total conviction and made pertinent to Dvořák’s grand design. EMI forgoes a biography for the cellist, which is a shame, but Brunello is clearly passionate in the way he lives music, and rhapsodic and stylistically ‘old-fashioned’ in his approach. This is a refreshingly open-hearted rendering (poignant and eruptive in the slow movement, forthright and nostalgic in the finale) and is repaying further listening very nicely. In short, this is a stimulating interpretation to set aside classic versions such as Rostropovich/Boult and Gendron/Haitink.
Recorded at concerts straddling the announcement of Antonio Pappano’s thoroughly deserved knighthood, this release (no doubt selling as a 'twofer') sheds fresh light on music we know well – or think we do.

 

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