Prom 50: Hey, Rome’s that Way!

Pulcinella (complete)
Respighi (after Rossini)
La boutique fantasque (Suite arr. Sargent)
The Pines of Rome

Sonia Ganassi (mezzo-soprano)
Kenneth Tarver (tenor)
Juha Uusitalo (bass-baritone)

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Vassily Sinaisky

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 27 August, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

With the proviso that Sinaisky and the RCO may be new to each other and some rehearsal time lost: Riccardo Chailly was missed! Stravinsky is one of Chailly’s strengths and he has investigated the recesses of Rossini’s output. One assumes he would have shown a native instinct for Respighi’s orchestral painting of Rome.

Pulcinella, with its small orchestra, doesn’t really work in the RAH, its glints and interplay somewhat lost especially as Sinaisky’s smoothness played down the tartness of Stravinsky’s baroque re-workings (from Pergolesi and others). Although the occasional Russo-simpatico moment raised the stakes, the overall blandness required the RCO’s excellence to carry the piece over its 40 minutes. Of the singers, Tarver was mellifluous in slower numbers, harried in faster ones, Ganassi was approximate and Uusitalo (replacing Michele Pertusi) too bluff. Solos from trumpet, trombone, double bass, flute and oboe were, of course, excellent and characterful, with leader Vesko Eschkenazy taking the honours.

Respighi’s ever-delightful orchestration of Rossini’s late piano pieces found the shop shut. All a bit glaring and heavy-handed, the continual suspicion that there was something ’corrupt’ about this suite was confirmed in the programme’s small-print – Malcolm Sargent. He would have added the irritating slapstick in the ’Galop’ then? Respighi, a master orchestrator, doesn’t need such meddling. Did Sargent also intend the vulgar grandiose ending (which loses the marvellous final section of the complete score) that Sinaisky unfortunately revelled in? Surely Chailly wouldn’t have countenanced Sargent’s ill effects.

Pines of Rome was also a bit sticky and literal with the opening pedestrian if articulate and the final bars lacking crushing power (bolts having been shot too early at the close of ’Toyshop’). This Dutch/Russian combo never really found any of the roads that lead to Rome – the central panels being a little too slow and pointing up Sinaisky’s verbatim conducting. Lovely trumpet playing albeit not distant enough, the performance belonged to veteran George Pieterson, whose clarinet solos were a thing of wonder, and to the phonographic nightingale that made a magical contribution.

  • BBC Radio 3 re-broadcast on Friday, 30 August, at 2 o’clock

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