The Enchanted Lake, Op.62 Rachmaninov
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Recorded November & December 2009 in Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
CD No: EMI 9 49462 2 Duration: 67 minutes Reviewed: March 2011
Antonio Pappano conducts The Enchanted Lake & Rachmaninov 2 [EMI]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
An air of mystery hangs over Anatoly Liadov’s The Enchanted Lake (1909), lightly breezed by string trills and – here – by the slight rustle of the humans in the audience. Antonio Pappano leads a sensitive, subtly detailed and atmospheric performance of this haunting miniature, a complementary ‘overture’ to Rachmaninov’s epic Second Symphony of 1907 (good planning makes sure that the Liadov is not made the encore).
The continued presence of an audience ensures continuity between the two works in a well-made join. The slow introduction of the Rachmaninov broods and then blossoms to an exposition (convincingly not repeated on this occasion) that is almost classical in its presentation, and one doesn’t miss the waxing and waning that is sometimes thought to be the fluctuating ‘norm’ for this composer, although there is much that is poetic. Pappano reserves the greatest drama for the stormy development; there is a whiff of greasepaint here, which befits one of the great conductors of opera, yet a sense of symphonic wholeness is achieved and the coda is a fiery homecoming, topped-off with what Rachmaninov wrote, double basses alone, Pappano not tempted to add spurious timpani, tuba or bass drum, as some conductors have unhelpfully done.
With barely a breath, Pappano swings into the scherzo (and this sounds an ‘as it happened’ rather than an editing blooper – very effective) and with much heart given to the wonderful string-dominated outpouring that offers passionate contrast to the festive mood; its return (here at 7’12”) is sotto voce and touchingly confiding; and between 4’55” and 5’25”, the intricacy of the section that comes out of the fugal writing is given with lace-like interaction, virtually perfect in clarity and undulation of rhythm, the latter a hallmark of the entire performance. The slow movement is both expansive and rolling, Alessandro Carbonare’s clarinet solo confiding, the strings (violins are placed antiphonally, double basses on the left) offering a gentle lullaby until reaching full bloom: this is Rachmaninov played con amore but not mawkishly. When the coda is reached – potently set-up – it is almost painful in its beauty, but it’s the right sort of pain, that which identifies with deeply-felt human emotion.
The finale is exhilarating, the generous melodies absorbed into a logical progression – Pappano certainly sees this work as an entity; there’s no sense of ‘oh, here’s a nice bit’, but full vent is given to Rachmaninov’s deep-seated passion and his sophisticated manner of expressing it. This isn’t an entirely straightforward recommendation though, for trumpet detail can sometimes dominate while quiet timpani figures get a little ‘lost’ at times, and more of the violins’ descending scale and less brass would have been welcome in the ultimate coda (13’09” brings a momentary doubt as to ‘correct’ harmony). Applause is retained. The recording, while generally fine, suggests that the venue is not always the most open and natural-sounding (textures can coagulate in tuttis), but brightness and gutsy lower strings are well equated and there is plenty of detail, impact and immediacy. Niggles aside, this is a wonderful performance, one that gets better and better the more it is played and exudes a range, dignity and impulse all its own.