LSO/Pappano – 4 February

Chichester Psalms
Piano Concerto No.3 in C, Op.26
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)

Dmitri Alexeev (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Antonio Pappano

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 4 February, 2004
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Having returned from what seems a triumphant visit to New York, the LSO played an all-Richard Strauss concert a few days ago under Antonio Pappano that didn’t excite much on paper given recent memorable LSO performances of the same music under Previn and Krivine. Pappano’s equally popular second programme at least had the novelty of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.

While the concert itself proved anything but definitive, it was notable for time-wasting – a nearly 10-minute-late start and a distended interval of more or less half-an-hour; add this to the unavoidable ten minutes spent rearranging the platform to accommodate the piano. The icing on the cake was when one of the stewards, young bloke, perfectly pleasant, asked my guest and I to take our seats – we were standing by them awaiting the straggling audience, and the LSO was not exactly on the platform! Must ask him why, next time!

The Pathétique was straightforward, at times anonymous, which found the LSO dropping a few stitches and not always unanimous. The opening dark-sonority bassoon and lower strings boded well, but Pappano’s chaste and then slightly underdone first movement wasn’t gripping. The waltz was ideal though in its flow, but the march was merely efficient. The valedictory Adagio returned to higher stakes, dignity in farewell, with life-surges naturally swelling; the final dying to nothing was superbly done. At least Pappano didn’t cross into histrionic territory, and a bouquet to him for waving the post-march applause aside (an idiotic tradition) and going straight into the lamenting finale.

There was much to like in Pappano’s reading of Chichester Psalms – once the too loud and rhythmically stiff first movement had been dispatched. The venomous middle section of ’The Lord is my Shepherd’ had all the variety lacking earlier – and made an apposite contrast with David Stark’s rather shy if very well sung treble solos; and if the massed strings weren’t quite intense enough in the last psalm, there was some very sensitive solo playing, and some amazingly hushed singing from the LSO Chorus, the final pages especially poignant.

In place of Mikhail Pletnev was Dmitri Alexeev who won Leeds with this very concerto all those years ago. There was something ’off the peg’ about his fast and loud playing, but in quieter, slower passages, his touch, sense of fantasy, and the occasional laconic aside, was a joy. As ever in this uneven work the finale’s middle section was tedious and overblown (the exception, ironically, being Pletnev, in his DG recording with Rostropovich), but the second movement’s variations were effectively characterised. Alexeev and Pappano worked well together if not always integrating; and if Pappano didn’t always clarify wind and brass details, his work with the strings was masterly regarding dynamics and bowing weight.

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