Pappano Brings Out Clarity of Textures and Varied Sonorities in Alpensinfonie

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Rossini, Bruch, R. Strauss: Roman Simović (violin), London Symphony Orchestra / Sir Antonio Pappano (conductor), Barbican Hall, London, 24.11.2016. (AS)

Rossini – Guillaume Tell, Overture
Bruch – Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor Op.26
R. Strauss – Eine Alpensinfonie Op.64

Oh for the days when concerts often began with overtures! Rossini’s overtures in particular, with their wit and brilliance, form a perfect start to a programme, as one did on this occasion. There were logical links in the programme’s items too, since William Tell was a Swiss folk hero in his Alpine country, and Strauss’s tone poem contains a quote from the Bruch concerto. And storms are depicted in both the overture and the Alpensinfonie.

The cello solos at the start of Guillaume Tell were played especially beautifully under Pappano’s watchful eye and there were some distinguished woodwind solos in a balanced, well-judged reading of the piece – lively, but not over-driven.

Lucky is an orchestra that has Roman Simović as its leader. Pausing on his way to give a hug to his temporary replacement Carmine Lauri, Simović stood before his colleagues and showed them (if such a thing were needed) just how fine a player he is. His demeanour was confident and nonchalant, as if he played concertos every day of his life (he does sometimes with other orchestras), and his quite relaxed style brought forth a stream of beautiful and elegant playing. This concerto, dare one say it, can sound a bit tawdry in the wrong hands, but Simović approached it with the utmost respect and seriousness. It was a most beautifully balanced reading, technically perfect: no world-famous soloist could have done better. Simović and Pappano have performed together before, and there was a marvellous rapport between soloist and conductor.

I had been concerned that the enormous orchestra Strauss used in the Alpensinfonie would be rather too much for the hard Barbican acoustic, but this proved not to be the case. This was at least partly due to Pappano’s skill in preserving the clarity of Strauss’s textures and bringing out the extraordinarily varied sonorities that the composer creates. How can it be that this wonderful work has been so disparaged in the past? The way that the composer depicts the experience of being on a mountain from dawn to dusk, in 22 episodes, and yet creates a coherent entity, with various themes that interrelate and return in different guises, is itself masterly. Fortunately performances of the work, once exceedingly rare, are now more often to be heard, despite the numbers of extra players that need to be engaged.

In addition to his management of dynamics, so that climaxes were thrilling yet not oppressive, and his judgement of balance, Pappano showed exceptional skill in bringing out Strauss’s long, sweeping melodies, while providing plenty of colourful contrast in the varied episodes and still preserving the overall line and shape of the work. It was an entirely faithful and objective reading, not unlike the composer’s own 1941 recording of the work. No praise could be higher than that.

Alan Sanders

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