Beatrice Rana, Sir Antonio Pappano /
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Rossini / Tchaikovsky / Respighi
Lugano, LAC, 2017-05-07
2017-05-10 — Original posting
Sir Antonio Pappano (*1959, a year after his family moved from Italy to England) grew up in Epping, Essex. Later (starting at age 13) his family moved to Connecticut in the United States. He received a musical education as pianist and as conductor. At age 21, he became rehearsal accompanist at the New York City Opera. His career started when he was “discovered” by Daniel Barenboim (*1942), who made him assistant at the Bayreuth Festival. After having worked in Barcelona and Frankfurt, he started conducting in 1987, at the Norwegian National Opera. Pappano worked as music director at the Belgian Royal Opera House until 2001, when he moved to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.
In 2005, Pappano became music director of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Under his direction, the orchestra—founded 1908—has made substantial advances in terms of quality and reputation. Right now, Pappano takes the orchestra onto a tour throughout Europe, together with pianist Yuja Wang (*1987). The tour takes the orchestra to Zurich, Bern, Geneva, Lucerne, Lugano, Amsterdam, Paris, London, and Essen. The program features an overture by Rossini (with exceptions in Bern and Geneva), Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B♭ minor, op.23, and Respighi’s well-known symphonic poems “Fontane di Roma” and “Pini di Roma”.
In summer 2017, Pappano will also take the orchestra onto a tour to the States, again with the Respighi pieces, but then with Martha Argerich (*1941) playing Piano Concerto No.3 in C major, op.26 by Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953).
The Soloist: Beatrice Rana
Beatrice Rana (*1993, see also Wikipedia) grew up in Copertino, near Lecce, in the most south-eastern corner of Italy. For 8 years, she studied with the pianist Benedetto Lupo (now at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome) at the Nino Rota Conservatory in Monopoli. I have given more details on Beatrice Rana in an earlier concert review from 2016-04-01.
In this one concert in Lugano, in Pappano’s European tour, Beatrice Rana had the chance to play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 in lieu of Yuja Wang. She has recorded this concerto 2014, together with Sir Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, see the bottom of this note.
This concert wasn’t just an opportunity to experience Sir Antonio Pappano and his orchestra, as well as Beatrice Rana with a piano concerto (as opposed to the solo repertoire which she presented in the 2016 recital in Baden that I reviewed last year). This was also my first encounter with the “Sala Teatro” in the newly built LAC (Lugano Arte e Cultura). The LAC opened 2015. It features a museum, as well as halls for concerts, opera and theater.
The “Sala Teatro” has 1000 seats and is used (and designed) for both concerts, as well as for theater and opera performances. It is meant to have the required acoustic flexibility. However, in my opinion, this still implies compromises (theater requires dry acoustics, concerts typically sound better with some reverberation). My experience from this concert: even though the sides, rear and the ceiling of the stage were equipped with wooden acoustic panels (the same nice, bright wood that is also used in the entire hall), the acoustics felt rather dry—and consequently also clear and analytical.
My seat was in the best category, a rear stall seat. From my perspective, the acoustics primarily helped the higher strings (the violins were at the front, on either side of the stage, cellos behind the first violin), while in this concert, the double basses in the rear left corner of the stage seemed to lack acoustic support by the venue.
However, most certainly, the hall is very, very nice with that bright wooden finish and the “wavy ceiling”, the visibility is excellent. It’s definitely worth a visit, if not a subscription!!!
Rossini: Opera “Le siège de Corinthe”, Overture
“Le siège de Corinthe” (The Siege of Corinth) is an opera that Gioacchino Rossini (1792 – 1868) composed 1820 for Naples. As all of Rossini’s overtures, this opera opens with a rather virtuosic orchestral piece. The overture is somewhat different from Rossini’s other overtures, in that it doesn’t rely on “progressing motorics” to the same degree as others (motoric rhythms that accelerate and often create an irresistible “pull” towards the end). Instead, this overture uses motoric rhythms in a more persistent way, almost throughout the piece, without extreme acceleration, etc.
With Rossini’s overture—also the overture to the concert—Sir Antonio Pappano instantly “set the quality standard” for the entire concert. He also demonstrated the result of the past 12 years of his cooperation with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. We experienced an orchestra in top form, fully engaged, precise, clear, transparent (helped by the acoustics, though), virtuosic, dynamically differentiated. Pappano conducted without baton. Throughout the evening, he could count on the excellent by the first desks, predominantly of course by the very active concertmaster.
Sir Antonio Pappano did not try creating extra tension by holding back the initial beats (as some conductors do), but rather started without the slightest hesitation, the beats falling almost like military commands, a tempo, right in medias res. His tempi are fluent, if not fast, his interpretation has momentum. And Pappano keeps the momentum throughout the piece. His sense for drama lest him build up the piece consequently and persistently, up to a climax, consistent and conclusive—and definitely convincing. It was an excellent introduction to the orchestra’s abilities!
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1 in B♭ minor, op.23
The popular Piano Concerto No.1 in B♭ minor, op.23 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893) features the following three movements:
- Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso — Allegro con spirito
- Andantino semplice — Prestissimo
- Allegro con fuoco
I have given some additional information on this composition in an earlier concert review from 2017-01-27, and I have also reviewed a performance of this composition from a concert performance on 2017-04-20.
I. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso — Allegro con spirito
Sir Antonio Pappano took a fluent start with Tchaikovsky’s majestic opening to the concerto, avoiding epic breadth, though he had the orchestra use relatively broad articulation in the successive cords in bars 4 – 6. Upon entry, Beatrice Rana seamlessly fit into the musical flow, not really trying to trump up with excessive musical gestures. Overall, I found her interpretation to be fairly sleek, dynamically differentiated.
She avoided using excessive force (she never overstrained the capacities of the Steinway D concert grand), but rather relied upon the technique of using short ritenuti and subsequent, momentary accelerando (such as to maintain the overall musical flow) as a means to make phrases and motives “speak”. technically, and in particular rhythmically, she is extremely firm and has the “feel” for the right tempo. At no time, technical challenges appeared to slow her down. Quite to the contrary: where Tchaikovsky’s score is challenging, she appeared to re-double the consequence, with which she wanted to keep the momentum. The one thing I noted, though, is that in the segments where the two hands are alternating in rapid succession (bars 162ff. and 445ff.), she involuntarily switched to a faster pace, which momentarily threw the orchestra.
Beatrice Rana is very careful at balancing keys and voices. She avoids harshness, rather seeks to point out tender, lyrical moments. For example, in bars 194ff., she switched to a distinctly slower tempo for the dolce e molto espressivo. She expressed warmth, emotionality, used subtle articulation and phrasing, seeking the cantabile in the score. On the other hand, her agility and speed in the double and triple octave cascades was breathtaking. In the big cadenza, there is a set of accelerating interjections with octave parallels. Beatrice Rana started these very carefully, gently—but then used extreme acceleration and crescendo, in compensation for the soft start.
There are certainly places in this movement where the cooperation with the orchestra could have been closer, more intense. Nevertheless, Beatrice Rana offered a careful, consciously formed performance, an interpretation with character!
II. Andantino semplice — Prestissimo
In the Andantino semplice, the cooperation between solo and orchestra seemed much closer. But here, the piano is often just accompaniment, illustration, while orchestral voices carry the melodic part. Pappano shaped this with very subtle agogics.
The central Prestissimo segment was elegant, not aiming at sounding spectacular. It was rather almost playful, and still very fast. Actually, it was so fast that there was little time and opportunity to articulate, to shape phrases. I’m not sure whether this was the composer’s intent?
III. Allegro con fuoco
The final movement showed Beatrice Rana as extremely firm in rhythm. She moved safely and undisturbed by the intricate rhythmic shifts between solo and accompaniment, carefully maintained the contact with the orchestra. It was amazing to see how Beatrice Rana managed the most virtuosic segments without apparent physical strain in her arms, hands, fingers.
The one thing that had me slightly irritated at times was, that after “expressive excursions”, soloist and conductor seemed to be a applying a bit too much “pressure”, as if they wanted to make up for lost time. It felt as if they wanted to avoid a creeping slow-down at any price. This brought some occasional, excessive unrest into the performance. Finally, in the ecstatic last bars, the solo part at times appeared somewhat superficial—but who would not understand some degree of euphoria at the end of such an amazing performance and interpretation?
Solo Encore — Debussy: Pour le piano, L.95, III. Toccata
As encore, Beatrice Rana presented her interpretation of the third movement, Toccata, from the suite “Pour le piano“, L.95, by Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918). That’s a piece that she has had in her repertoire for a while. I heard her play the entire suite in a solo recital in Baden on 2016-04-01. It’s music that suits her excellent pianistic abilities. Her playing was virtuosic, fast, full of momentum. Her interpretation was atmospheric, very fluent, elegant, at times reminding of fast essercizi by Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757), but then returning to the impressionist attitude. It’s a brilliant piece, building up to grandiose gestures, then again sparkling like fireworks: fascinating!
Respighi: Fontane di Roma and Pini di Roma
To the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi (1879 – 1936), the “Roman trilogy”—the Symphonic Poems “Fontane di Roma” (1916), “Pini di Roma” (1924), and “Feste Romane” (Roman Festivals, 1928)—were most likely the culmination of his compositorial oeuvre. These compositions were written for the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and Sir Antonio Pappano therefore declared them part of the core repertoire of this orchestra. In this series of concerts, he is combining “Fontane di Roma” and “Pini di Roma” into one dramatic unit, one single “symphony”, performed almost attacca, without intermission.
Fontane di Roma (Fontains of Rome)
The first Symphonic Poem of the trilogy was written 1916. It consists of four movements. All were performed attacca in this concert, each depicting a specific Roman fountain (or the atmosphere surrounding it) at a specific time of the day. “Fontane di Roma” premiered 1917.
- I. La fontana di Valle Giulia all’Alba (Fountain of Valle Giulia at Dawn)
- II. La fontana del Tritone al mattino (The Triton Fountain in the Morning)
- III. La fontana di Trevi al meriggio (The Trevi Fountain at Noon)
- IV. La fontana di Villa Medici al tramonto (The Villa Medici Fountain at Sunset)
Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome)
Respighi wrote the second of the Symphonic Poems 1924. The composition premiered in the same year, in Rome. As “Fontane di Roma“, this composition features four movements, each depicting pine trees (or their environment, the atmosphere surrounding them) in specific locations in Rome at different times of the day:
- I pini di Villa Borghese (The Pines of the Villa Borghese): Allegretto vivace
- Pini presso una catacomba (Pines Near a Catacomb): Lento
- I pini del Gianicolo (The Pines of the Janiculum): Lento
- I pini della Via Appia (The Pines of the Appian Way): Tempo di marcia
Fontane di Roma
I. La fontana di Valle Giulia all’Alba
Respighi and Pappano keep the sound transparent, “airy” and light (and here, the acoustics of the venue were very helpful!)—enchanting music!
II. La fontana del Tritone al mattino
The picture changes dramatically with the “Tritone” fountain with its horn fanfares. The horn sound forms a kind of organ point throughout this “movement”. But even with the stronger brass sound, the sound is never dense or bombastic, despite the much stronger volume, also in the sections where the fff tremolo in the strings appears to depict erupting water jets. Pappano keeps the control over the large orchestral apparatus at all times.
III. La fontana di Trevi al meriggio
A grandiose, impressive picture, with even more brass and percussion sound—but again always clearly structured. The conductor doesn’t let the orchestra get carried away, keeps up the tension and the drive also throughout the ritardando in the second half, when the scenery seems to calm down.
IV. La fontana di Villa Medici al tramonto
The transition between the pictures / movements is totally inconspicuous—suddenly we find ourselves at the Fontana di Trevi, the atmosphere changes to evening mood: it’s amazing, fascinating how well Respighi was able to put a description of the fountains, the scenery surrounding them, as well as the atmosphere of the time of the day into music! And again, Pappano’s ability to shape, model the dynamics, keeping them under control, down to the faintest ppp (and into the darkness of midnight), is admirable!
Pini di Roma
I. I pini di Villa Borghese (The Pines of the Villa Borghese): Allegretto vivace
What a contrast: a chaos of children playing around the trees, sometimes just noisy, then singing, dancing, also birds singing from the trees, calmer periods, maybe just one child—a very colorful picture, lively, vivid. And again, orchestra and acoustics keep this transparent, light.
II. Pini presso una catacomba (Pines Near a Catacomb): Lento
And another stark contrast! Dark colors opening the somber underground world of the catacombs of Rome, into which earthly life only seems to penetrate as a distant sound, like from a remote orchestra (there is indeed a trumpet playing a melancholic tune, off-stage, faint. This piece also shows the strengths of the string section and trombones, particularly where the volume builds up to the climax, driven by the conductor with big, often circling gestures.
III. I pini del Gianicolo (The Pines of the Janiculum): Lento
Even though no longer in the catacombs, we now find ourselves in a nightly scenery, with the moon shining through the trees. Harp and celesta set the tone, clarinet (later also flute and oboes) and the strings play melancholic melodies, expressive, longing, memories of past times? Both romantic and post-romantic! But again: never would the music sound or feel prosy or overblown—it’s always very atmospheric.
IV. I pini della Via Appia (The Pines of the Appian Street): Tempo di marcia
The culmination of the symphonic poem is this last picture, with its inexorable, relentless Tempo di marcia, starting all ppp. Initially it’s just double basses, cello, piano, drums. The pace remains consequent, while the music gradually builds up, as an army marches along the Via Appia towards the city—ending in a grandiose, overwhelming, final scenery, with F horns standing (in groups of two) behind the orchestra, as well as on balconies in the auditorium. It’s absolutely enthralling, filling the venue with sound from the entire, huge, rich orchestral apparatus: fireworks? Monumental architecture? The re-emerging pictures of Rome at the time of the ancient Roman empire—ah, what music! What a masterful painting in sound!
The erupting applause led Pappano to add an encore. He jokingly announced “qualcosa meno… ” (something less…), pointing with his arms towards the brass players on the balconies. Everybody instantly understood this, as people smiled throughout the venue. The encore turned out to be the well-known Valse triste, Op.44/1 by Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957). A piece with retained, Nordic melancholy (quite a contrast to the glorious ending of Respighi’s symphonic poems!), occasionally filled with the glowing of Southern warmth and intensity.
The applause erupted again after this, and so—inevitably in the country of William Tell!—Pappano added a “last dance”: he returned to Gioacchino Rossini, with the final part (Allegro vivace) from the overture to the Opera “Guillaume Tell“. This was the appropriate ending for an excellent concert: Grazie, Maestro!
Beatrice Rana’s 2014 recording of the Tchaikovsky piano concerto, together with the Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, op.16 by Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953) is available on CD:
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1 in B♭ minor, op.23
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, op.16
Warner Classics (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 2015
For the same concert, I have also written a (shorter) review in German for Bachtrack.com. This posting is not a translation of the Bachtrack review, the rights of which remain with Bachtrack.com. I created the German review using a subset of the notes taken during this concert. I wanted to enable my non-German speaking readers to read about my concert experience as well. Therefore, I have taken my original notes as a loose basis for this separate posting. I’m including additional material that is not present in the Bachtrack review