Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (Rome), Sir Antonio Pappano, conductor, with Martha Argerich, piano, at Carnegie Hall

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Sir Antonio Pappano

Sir Antonio Pappano

Carnegie Hall
October 20, 2017

Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (Rome)
Sir Antonio Pappano, conductor
Martha Argerich, piano

Verdi – Sinfonia from  Aida (1872)
Prokofiev – Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26 (1917-21)
Respighi – The Fountains of Rome (1915-16)
Respighi – The Pines of Rome (1923-24)


Musical triumphs, like Tolstoy happy families, tend to be alike. But celebration usually breaks out following a performance, not before! I’ve only once witnessed the sort of screaming, foot stamping, room shaking reception Thursday’s Carnegie Hall audience accorded Martha Argerich, and that was in anticipation of Sir Georg Solti’s Mahler with the Chicago Symphony in the late 1960s. And fair to say, though “Solti! Solti!” always made for a great chant, screams for Argerich lasted longer. Even Karajan enthusiasts were less tireless, back in the day.

Martha Argerich is, of course, a piano legend, famously afflicted with stage fright, and now at 77 a lung cancer survivor in successful apparent remission, itself a seemingly magical dispensation of fate. Her way with Prokofiev is universally admired. But this critic was nonetheless put off by a mad dash for the exits of 600 patrons the moment Argerich finished her encores. It made one wonder how many in this cult really hear–as opposed to worship? And just what did they have against Respighi, beyond monomania expressed as rudeness and indifference? Though Argerich gave a quite effective reading of the Prokofiev Third Concerto, it was not, objectively speaking, an unusual one, nor  (l risk injury in saying) especially secure. Argerich had trouble projecting through the orchestra and revealed some awkward passagework in the finale. If it had been anyone else, critics would think of it as a solid B+.

Still, the concert was ultimately grand and glorious, a gorgeous showcase for what a world class Italian orchestra on its first New York visit can do. Sir Antonio Pappano beamed all evening with pride, as he led the Orchestra of Santa Cecilia through Verdi’s Sinfonia from Aida and Respighi’s two greatest tone poems. The Sinfonia is quite different from the small introduction most opera lovers know, a fuller workout of themes and closer to what most listeners think of as an overture.  As for Respighi’s Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome, it hardly needs saying you could smell the olive oil wafting down the centuries. Pappano has romantic instincts as a conductor –a similar sense of rounded phrasing to that of Sir John Barbirolli. The richly growling Catacombs and his eerie slow march up the Appian Way were evocative highlights, punctuated by immense leonine roars from brasses hidden in the balconies. (Earlier, I never did spot the nightingale). But quieter moments were most magical of all—proof that the tiniest soft elision. air noodle or string swoop in the right hands can speak for a nation. This was Italian music done the Italian way. The woodwinds of this orchestra are slightly gruff in tone. That, too, is Italian.

It was an evening of encores, as well. The piano four hands rendition he and Martha Argerich tossed off of Ravel’s “Mother Goose” was none the worse for that, and Pappano’s “Valse Triste” subtle and sensual. The two-thirds of the hall remaining in their seats were effectively dispatched by Rossini’s “Lone Ranger.”

The cult, you might say, missed the best of an astounding evening.

About the author

Steven Kruger

Steven Kruger is a former classical concert agent. For a number of years he supervised the roster of conductors at Shaw Concerts in New York City, representing such artists as Sir Andrew Davis, Sir Neville Marriner, Rafael Fruhbeck De Burgos, Jose Serebrier and Robert Shaw.

Born in New York City in 1947 to a German immigrant father and an American mother, Kruger is a descendant of 19th century Bach biographer Philipp Spitta. He was educated at Phillips Exeter and Princeton, and received his degree in Philosophy, but turned to music administration after a brief career as a military officer and as a stockbroker.

Early in his exposure to music, Kruger developed a special fondness for the British Symphonists, and as a concert agent was able to play a part in the revival of such composers as Elgar, Delius, Walton, Bax and Vaughan Williams during the late 1970s.

He continues today as an advocate for these and other 19th and 20th century neo-romantic symphonic composers, such as D’Indy, Magnard, Korngold, Schmidt and Tubin, who were at one time eclipsed by the mid-century fashion for academic music. Now living in California, Steven Kruger reviews selected concerts in Davies Hall by The San Francisco Symphony and international visiting orchestras. Since 2011, he has written program notes on demand for the Oregon Symphony, including their recent CDs, “Music for a Time of War” and “This England”. He contributes a regular CD review column to New York Arts twice a month called A Crop of Recordings and is a masthead reviewer for Fanfare, America’s most serious remaining hardcover journal devoted to recorded music.

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