It’s good to find Paul Dukas’s masterly and brilliant The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (a scherzo after Goethe) once again making a splash in the concert hall – after an arid period the flood-waters have returned, Antonio Pappano (on a detour from the smoke, mirrors and greasepaint of Covent Garden, “Anna Nicole” waiting in the wings there for him though) here whipping up a performance that was an opera for the ears, full of atmosphere, ribaldry (Rachel Gough’s bassoon bringing Mickey Mouse to life, an association with Disney’s “Fantasia” impossible to disassociate) and danger, the LSO pristine in its execution and detailing.
Technically easeful and musically revealing, Simon Trpčeski has no lack of fortissimo and rhetoric, but it was his lightness of touch that here beguiled, a discretion that allowed orchestral lines to be of equal importance – gratefully taken by the LSO and Pappano. The clarity of his voicing and filigree was a constant revelation as to the emotional contrasts and beauty of Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto (although as revised it follows two other piano concertos and a couple of symphonies). Trpčeski brought out the cadenza’s Russian bells and poetic reverie with relish and sensitivity; the central Andante, here very slow and freely phrased, was raised beyond its normal intermezzo status; and the concerto’s ultimate final chord had a resounding togetherness that perfectly summed-up a performance that fitted-together like clockwork and which doubted any underestimation this work might suffer.
It’s been a week for unusual encores. Two nights earlier, in the Royal Festival Hall, Håkan Hardenberger had required three trumpets and an orchestra for his extended HK Gruber extra. Trpčeski was more modest: just a violinist (Leader Roman Simovic) and cellist (Co-Principal Tim Hugh) needed for a folk-dance from Skopje as arranged by a Macedonian compatriot of Trpčeski’s; here was a piano trio of swing and scintillation winningly busked.
Although the inclusion of Arvo Pärt’s Fratres (Brothers) seemed too out of synch with the time-frame of the concert’s other pieces (1890-1917, the years of the Rachmaninov, original and revised), and also in terms of musical quality (a little Pärt usually goes a long way), this performance of the 1992 scoring of Fratres (it exists in several versions) – for solo violin, strings and percussion (claves and bass drum) – took on a sacred quality, Roman Simovic (quite a night for him) simply irresistible in his earthy, rich-toned communication. True, interest waned before the twelve minutes was up, but these incantations and drones nearly made a convert out of a Pärt sceptic.
Returning to water-inspired masterpieces, in the last three decades the LSO has notched-up some truly memorable accounts of La mer (racing to the mind are presentations conducted by Celibidache, Colin Davis and Boulez) – to which Pappano’s reading joins such elite company, a pastel-shaded version that glowed with personality, rigorously etched but never at the expense of suggestion and fluctuation, the three movements played virtually attacca
, the music’s impressions dappled with a generous brush, climaxes achieved seamlessly, the LSO alive to pregnant anticipation, ripples and tempest. Pappano may have eschewed the ad lib
brass interjections in the finale, but little else was lost in this deft, subtle and ardent performance.
- Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday 14 December at 7 p.m.
- Antonio Pappano conducts the LSO in Ligeti, Bruch and Rimsky-Korsakov on Wednesday 15 December