Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)
Orchestra dellAccademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Recorded at concerts in July 2006 in Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
Reviewed by: David Gutman
Reviewed: March 2007
CD No: EMI 3 53258 2 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 17 minutes
Whether in concert or on disc, few non-Russian conductors think to tackle all six, seven (Manfred) or eight (completed by someone else) Tchaikovsky symphonies. I have no idea whether Antonio Pappano conducts the numbered three which predate the great emotional calamity of the composer’s life, the year 1877 when circumstances conspired to persuade him into a disastrous marriage, but these invigorating, extrovert accounts of numbers 4-6 might be taken to imply a familiarity with Tchaikovsky’s stage works.
And that’s equally rare. Pappano neither attempts to make Tchaikovsky’s music sound conventionally symphonic nor burdens it with extra-curricular meaning in the Bernstein manner. Instead he favours generally swift tempos allied to the natural expressive sweep characteristic of his operatic work. The results are hugely enjoyable; the downside being that the music loses some of its menace and depth.
For me the sound of his Italian orchestra is definitely among the pluses. With startling fidelity, EMI’s live recordings convey antiphonally placed violins and raw, regionally-accented winds. (When the brass bray it’s a Fellini-esque effect rather than a Soviet-Russian one but by no means inappropriate.) Pappano is however a rather noisy conductor and I am not sure that numbers 4 and 5 can be recommended to headphone-users without a health warning. Fine as they may be as performances, the man in charge seems to be doing train impressions.
Squeezing three symphonies onto two discs has inevitably meant splitting No.5 between CDs, a pity as it is among the best with some wonderfully sensitive phrasing at the start of the slow movement. I had more problems with the ‘Pathétique’, perhaps because it emerges here as stylistically of a piece with its predecessors when it can – or maybe should – seem like an embarkation point for the twentieth century. It was left to Mahler and Sibelius to explore implications that Pappano rather glosses over for all his fluidity and drive. While he elicits more completely alert and responsive playing than, say, Riccardo Muti in his live relay on Naïve with Orchestre National de France, the effect is relatively lightweight, the sense of urgency patented by Mravinsky projected without its element of neurosis.
The Fourth Symphony, too, is wonderfully listenable – deliberately paced but without sacrificing any excitement – although there is a peculiar subito piano moment (sounding like tape drop-out or an edit) at 5’26” into the first movement. Live recording is not always quite what it seems!
Some EMI publicity, not included with the disc, cites a notice from “Il Giornale” to suggest that Pappano is “imposing an ‘Italian way’ of performing Tchaikovsky’s symphonies … one that feeds on the great singing style and passion of Italian vocalism”. If so, let’s hope we get the rest of them. Such readings may or may not represent the last word in Tchaikovsky interpretation but they are likely to confirm the remarkable rapport between a vastly improved band and its ebullient new music director.