Switzerland Weber, Chopin, Schumann: Francesco Piemontesi (piano), Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia / Sir Antonio Pappano (conductor), Francesco Piemontesi (piano). Tonhalle Maag, Zurich, 8.11.2019. (JR)
Weber – Overture to Euryanthe
Chopin – Piano Concerto No.1 Op.11
Schumann – Symphony No.2 Op.61
This concert opened with the chance for a young Swiss saxophonist, Valentine Michaud, to show off her skills on the instrument in two short pieces. This she did admirably, together with three other saxophonists (Joan Jordi Oliver Arcos, Faustyna Szudra and Jean-Valdo Galland). The saxophone is not perhaps an instrument to which one wants to listen for too long, but there seems to be a general resurgence of interest in it and more involvement in traditionally classical works rather than jazz. Valentine Michaud may not yet have the technique or charisma of Jess Gillam but she is certainly a young hopeful.
I last heard a rather less than joyful performance of the Euryanthe overture just a few weeks ago, at the Gasteig in Munich, under the sadly now sluggish Mariss Jansons. Tonight, under a virile Antonio Pappano, it was an entirely different kettle of fish, evident from the electric first bars. The overture’s boisterous outer sections did just what any overture should do, namely put us in the right spirits for the rest of the concert.
This fine Roman orchestra (is it the best in Italy?) under their Anglo-Italian conductor were on a four-night tour of Switzerland courtesy of Migros Kulturprozent Classics. In Geneva and Lucerne they gave nearly the identical concert, the only notable difference being that Martha Argerich was the soloist in Liszt’s First Piano Concerto. We in Zurich had the pleasure of hearing a remarkable pianist of the younger generation, Francesco Piemontesi with Chopin’s Concerto No.1. The concerto has delightful tunes for the piano but orchestration – as Berlioz pointed out, somewhat rudely – is not its strongest point. The soloist, after a very long wait at the start, plays almost without a break and has some technical hurdles to surmount. Piemontesi did this with consummate ease and the lightest of touches at all times. The slow movement was serene without ever dragging, and the joyous final movement had Piemontesi’s fingers scampering across the keyboard. He rewarded warm applause with a Chopin Nocturne.
Schumann’s symphonies are in the wrong numerical order (as, by the way, is the Chopin piano concerto). Schumann’s Third Symphony, the ‘Rhenish’ was actually the last symphony he composed, but not the last to be published. His Second Symphony should therefore really be his Third. His Fourth symphony was first completed in the same year as his First – but heavily revised ten years later. (For budding musicologists out there, Schumann also composed an unfinished symphony, nicknamed the ‘Zwickau’ – Schumann’s home town- written about ten years before his First and based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet; you can hear it on Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s recording of all Schumann’s symphonies with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.)
It is said that Schumann’s Second Symphony suffers, most notably in the slow movement, from being coloured by the first signs of the composer’s syphilitic infection, which led to his mental illness; I find any strains hard to detect. Whilst there are possibly a few feverish elements and a plethora of ideas, I find the work simply a joy. Pappano’s vigorous, effervescent, classical performance will certainly be a highlight of my musical year. We may not normally associate an Italian orchestra and Anglo-Italian conductor, steeped in operatic repertoire, with Schumann, but the work was audibly in their bloodstream. Pappano recorded this symphony (together with the Fourth) with this orchestra just a few years ago. Pappano’s visible and audible rapport with these musicians, whose Chief Conductor he has been since 2005, has paid dividends. The orchestra visibly enjoyed playing the symphony, and the entire audience certainly enjoyed listening to it. The woodwind section, in particular, shone across the board.
Warm applause was rewarded with two encores: some restful Respighi and then some raucous Johann Strauss. On the evidence, Pappano would make a very fine conductor at the Viennese Neujahrskonzert.