Antonio Pappano

Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2; Lyadov: The Enchanted Lake

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Conductor Antonio Pappano and Rome's Orchestra dell'Accademia Nationale di Santa Cecilia are frequently found performing Italian operatic standards and sacred music by Rossini and Verdi, and their discography for EMI is quite impressive. But their 2011 concert recording of Sergey Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2 in E minor and Anatol Lyadov's The Enchanted Lake is not a sudden departure into Russian music. Indeed, Pappano and his ensemble have had modest success with recording the music of Tchaikovsky, and Pappano is quite versatile in a wide range of styles and international repertoire. Yet this experience and the musicians' feeling for dramatic expression are insufficient to make Rachmaninov's most popular symphony really work, because the brooding Russian spirit of the work's melodies is diffused with the surface loveliness of the orchestra's technique, and Pappano doesn't dig deep enough to find the darkness in this piece, just the gorgeousness. His efforts in the Lyadov are better, though this is such a slight, atmospheric composition, it seems all impressionistic prettiness and little else, and as a filler work, it doesn't offer much of an incentive to acquire the full album. One thing that can be said in favor of the performance of Rachmaninov's Second is that there is nearly perfect audibility and every note can be heard in its proper place. This provides value for someone who is studying the score and wants to hear every detail, but listeners who want to feel what this symphony is about should look elsewhere, possibly for recordings by Russian conductors and orchestras.

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