In concert – London Symphony Orchestra & Sir Antonio Pappano – Respighi & Dallapiccola

Respighi Vetrate di Chiesa (1925-6)
Dallapiccola Il prigioniero (1944-8) {Sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Ángeles Blancas Gulín (soprano – Mother), Eric Greene (baritone – Prisoner), Stefano Secco (tenor – Gaoler / Grand Inquisitor), Egor Zhuravskii (tenor – First Priest), Chuma Sijeqa (bass-baritone – Second Priest), London Symphony Chorus, Guildhall School Singers, London Symphony Orchestra / Sir Antonio Pappano

Barbican Hall, London

Sunday 5 June 2022

Written by Richard Whitehouse Pictures (c) Mark Allan Photography

This second of the London Symphony Orchestra’s two concerts of Italian music with chief conductor designate Sir Antonio Pappano consisted of two pieces that brought the aesthetic and political divisions of Italy between the world wars into acute while always productive focus.

It might have originated in piano pieces written for his wife, but Respighi’s Church Windows duly emerged among the most opulent and evocative of his orchestral works. That both title and subtitles were postpriori additions does not lessen their relevance – not least as concerns The Flight into Egypt, its tense understatement a telling foil to the ensuing Saint Michael the Archangel with its warlike images rendered graphically by brass and percussion, before climaxing in one of the most theatrical of tam-tam crashes as Satan is banished from Heaven.

Not that Respighi was averse to gentler expression as appropriate, The Matins of Saint Clare featuring orchestration of unfailing finesse on its raptly expressive course. Inevitably, it is the magisterial finale of Saint Gregory the Great when this composer comes most fully into his own – its cumulative fervour drawing on all aspects of the sizable forces for what becomes a heady apotheosis. Music, indeed, that needs to be realized with discipline and focus to avoid overkill, which was certainly the case in a performance where the LSO left nothing to chance.

The London Symphony Orchestra and London Symphony Chorus conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano perform Ottorino Respighi Church Windows Luigi Dallapiccola Il prigioniero In the Barbican Hall (Ángeles Blancas Gulin Mother, Eric Greene Prisoner, Stefano Secco Gaoler / Grand Inquisitor, Egor Zhuravskii First priest, Chuma Sijeqa Second priest ) on Friday, 3 June 2022. Photo by Mark Allan

Whereas Respighi pays (indirect) tribute to Italy’s cultural greatness, Dallapiccola exposes its darker recesses in his one-act opera The Prisoner. Composed over several years that span the decline and fall of Mussolini’s Italian empire, its libretto is drawn from the novel by the late 19th century author Villiers de l’Isle-Adam whose title Torture by Hope became subtitle for this opera by intimating the culmination of a scenario set during one of the grimmest periods in the Spanish Inquisition. By this time, Dallapiccola had evolved that distinctively personal brand of serialism which served him thereafter, but his knowledge of and devotion to Italian opera meant that those more methodical or systematic aspects are harnessed to an emotional fervour as makes for a consistently powerful and often moving while harrowing experience.

The performance was a compulsive one – centred upon Eric Greene’s assumption of the title-role that built gradually to an apex of elation suddenly and cruelly denied. The opening stage is dominated by the Mother – rendered with unfailing charisma yet never wanton melodrama by Ángeles Blancas Gulín, and Stefano Secco brought hardly less conviction to the twin-role of the Gaoler whose urgings to remain steadfast assume a chilling tone when he is revealed as the Grand Inquisitor. There were telling cameos from Egor Zhuruvskii and Chuma Sijeqa as the Priests, with the London Symphony Chorus and Guildhall School Singers combining to potent effect in offstage Psalm settings – the final one a climax of sombre grandeur. Pappano directed with absolute assurance an opera he doubtless, and rightly so, ranks with the finest.

It brought this enterprising and superbly executed concert to an impressive close. One only hopes Pappano will have the opportunity to programme further such music over the coming seasons: the enthusiastic response suggested an almost full house would be there it hear it.

To read more on the London Symphony Orchestra’s current season, visit their website. For more information on the artists involved, click on the names for Antonio Pappano, Ángeles Blancas Gulín, Eric Greene, Stefano Secco, Egor Zhuravskii and Chuma Sijega

In concert – London Symphony Orchestra & Sir Antonio Pappano – Petrassi, Puccini & De Sabata

G. Gabrieli Canzoni – primi toni a 8; duodecimi toni a 8 (c1597)
Vivaldi Concerto for Four Violins in B minor RV580 / Op.3/10
Petrassi Concerto for Orchestra No. 5 (1954-5)
Puccini Capriccio sinfonico (1883)
De Sabata Juventus (1919)

Benjamin Gilmore, Julia Ungureanu, Julián Gil Rodríguez, Thomas Norris (violins), London Symphony Orchestra / Sir Antonio Pappano

Barbican Hall, London

Thursday 2 June 2022

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What better way to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee than with two concerts providing a decent overview of Italian orchestral music with the London Symphony Orchestra and its chief conductor designate Sir Antonio Pappano. That relatively little of this music has managed to enter the standard repertoire only makes revivals such as these the more worthwhile.

Tonight’s programme began off-stage with two Canzoni by Giovanni Gabrieli played by LSO brass from the centre of the lower circle – Pappano facing the audience to conduct. Although a more spacious and terraced acoustic would have presented these to better advantage, their hieratic grandeur as well as intricately contrapuntal texture was an admirable foil to Vivaldi‘s Concerto for Four Violins which followed onstage. Published in his ground-breaking collection L’estro armonico, its bracing outer Allegros frame a brief while unpredictable Largo whose disjunctive contrasts of tempo and technique brought the best out of a quartet drawn from the LSO front desks and notably well-matched in temperament.

From the early 18th to mid-20th century was less of an aesthetic wrench than might be thought, the Fifth Concerto for Orchestra by Goffredo Petrassi embodying various of those facets as set out by his musical antecedents. Written for the Boston Symphony and long-serving director Charles Munch, this is arguably the most representative of its composer’s eight such works in its amalgam of technical virtuosity with that personal adaptation of serial thinking which Petrassi pursued during the post-war era. Moreover, its outwardly simple format of two movements each following a slow-fast trajectory belies a subtler and more organic evolution – such that an atmospheric prelude intensifies into a capricious scherzo whose provisional close makes possible what follows. Here, an increasingly restive intermezzo elides into a Dionysian toccata with brass and percussion to the fore – then a pensive epilogue returns the music to the inwardness from which it had emerged. A superb performance from the LSO, and a timely revival of this not so minor masterpiece.

His operas brought the orchestral component of Italian opera to a new level of sophistication, but Puccini wrote little for orchestra alone. Essentially his graduation exercise, Capriccio sinfonico is equally a ‘statement of intent’ with its unfolding from a sombre opening (later to be redeployed in Edgar), through an energetic central phase (its main idea familiar as the opening of La bohème), to a modified reprise of that first section which brings about a gently fatalistic close. Pappano duly guided the LSO through an assured reading of music known ‘by default’, making one regret that Puccini’s later focus on opera to the virtual exclusion of all else left no comparable orchestral work from his maturity.

Much the same might be said of Victor de Sabata (above), whose international career as a conductor from his late thirties left him with little time or inclination to compose. A sequence of symphonic poems from around the early 1920s confirms sure mastery of the orchestra, and if Juventus is hardly the deepest of these, its dramatic flair and gestural immediacy are not to be gainsaid. Here, too, there is a three-part structure – the vaunting aspiration of youth becoming subsumed into the trials and setbacks which come with experience, before a revival of those earlier convictions ensures a close of blazing affirmation. Other composers might have invested such a sequence with a dialectical sense of change and attainment, but de Sabata is content to take these implications at face value – while investing his music with a greater subtlety and resourcefulness than it has often been credited for (not least by the writer of this evening’s programme note). This was certainly evident in Pappano’s take on a piece which could yet attract plaudits for other than its name.

As if mindful of the context in which this concert was heard, Pappano opened the second half with a rendering of the National Anthem – somewhat to the surprise of an audibly bemused audience, and presumably not to be repeated for Sunday’s follow-up programme that features Respighi and Dallapiccola at their (very different) communicative best.

To read more on the London Symphony Orchestra’s current season, visit their website

Online recommendations – Gramophone Charity Gala & English Music Festival

To hopefully boost your Monday evening Arcana has two recommendations for online music – one recently given and a whole festival of music later in the month to look forward to.

Last night Gramophone magazine held the Gramophone Classical Music Awards Winners Charity Lockdown Gala, a three-hour event whose purpose was ‘to support musicians whose work has dried up due to the Covid-19 crisis, and who are finding themselves in severe financial difficulty’. You can watch on YouTube below, with the concert available until this Sunday 17 May – and you can donate on the links given at the link too:

The program was richly entertaining, from the Zoom-based capers (and brilliant singing) of I Fagiolini performing Monteverdi to a number of sublime excursions into the world of solo Bach, led by Sir Antonio Pappano. There were special performances from guitarist Sean Shibe, in a selection of Scottish lute tunes, pianist Vikingur Ólafsson in Rameau, Beatrice Rana and Boris Giltburg playing Chopin, Ian and Oliver Bostridge performing Beethoven and the Pavel Haas Quartet playing Dvořák.

Meanwhile the enterprising team behind the English Music Festival, scheduled for May and inevitably cancelled, have ensured the event will take place online. They have rustled up a most impressive programme, with concerts featuring recordings from the ‘house’ label EM Records but, most excitingly, with online concerts from violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck, cello and piano team Joseph Spooner and Nicholas Bosworth, Ensemble Hesperi and pianists Paul Guinery and Duncan Honeybourne (above)

For more information and to donate / buy tickets, you can visit the festival’s programme page here