Italy has three main symphony orchestras. Two have come to BA in earlier seasons: Milan´s La Scala with Gavazzeni and later with Muti, and that of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino with Maazel. And now, to complete the trilogy, the Mozarteum Argentino brought us from Rome the Orchestra dell´Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under Sir Antonio Pappano and with Beatrice Rana (piano). All made their local debuts.
The three are of high quality and can compete internationally. La Scala´s has a special regime: during Autumn it is a concert orchestra, but come Winter they go to the pit for the operatic season. That of the MMF of course is the basis for the homonymous yearly Festival in which such great names as Bartoletti and Mehta have presented interesting opera programmes, but they also offer many concerts during the year and they are the pit orchestra for the Teatro Comunale´s opera season.
The Santa Cecilia, instead, is a concert orchestra with weekly activity from October to June at the magnificent new Parco della Musica. Each concert is given three times. However, it has recently recorded "Aida" with a starry cast (Kaufmann/Harteros/Schrott) and "Madama Butterfly" with Gheorghiu. The Accademia also supports a Chorus, and so the choral-symphonic repertoire often appears during the season.
It is the oldest Italian organism dedicated almost exclusively to concert music. It was founded in 1908 as Orchestra dell´Augusteo di Roma. Bernardino Molinari had a long tenure as Principal Conductor from 1912 to 1944. Later the Orchestra was called Santa Cecilia (she is the patroness of music) and had eminent Principal conductors: Fernando Previtali (1953-73), Igor Markevich (1973-5), Giuseppe Sinopoli (1983-7), Daniele Gatti (1992-7), Myung-Whun Chung (1997-2005) and now Pappano. To their appellation they later added Nazionale (I would have thought more adequate to add "di Roma").
The Academy was established by papal bull as "Congregazione" in 1585, and became Academy in the Nineteenth Century. Nowadays it also has a Conservatory, what they call a "Bibliomediateca" and a Museum of musical instruments.
Vinyl lovers will recall that the orchestra, though a concert outfit, was employed in dozens of famous operatic recordings in the 1950s and 1960s. Anyway, I can vouchsafe that in concert the Santa Cecilia was first-rate even in the Fifties, when I heard in Rome a wonderful evening with Previtali and the greatest pianist in my experience, Wilhelm Backhaus, who played both Beethoven´s Concerto Nº4 and Brahms´ First in the same evening! (February 6, 1954).
And now to Sir Antonio Pappano (why Antonio and not Anthony? He´s British!). Born 56 years ago, he studied in the United States, he was Musical Director of the Norwegian Opera at Oslo and at Brussels´ Théâtre de la Monnaie prior to taking over the main post at London´s Covent Garden in 2002. So he divides his time between opera and concerts.
The programmes he brought over for the Mozarteum´s two cycles played safe, too safe. On the tour came Beatrice Rana, a 23-year-old Italian pianist who recorded Tchaikovsky´s First Concerto and Prokofiev´s Second with Pappano and the Santa Cecilia. If she had played Prokofiev on Tuesday 12 and Tchaikovsky on Wednesday 13, it would have been much better, but no, it was Tchaikovsky both days. Or if the Russian composer´s Fifth Symphony on the 12th would have been replaced by a symphony of, say, Shostakovich, there would have been a good balance. But no, we had both Tchaikovskys together on the first night, and one hopes to hear something more varied from a visiting orchestra, especially if it´s their first time here.
But apart from that caveat, everything went swimmingly. The conductor was right in starting both evenings with Verdi: the Overture to "La Forza del destino" and the following day, the Sinfonia (another name for overture) to "Luisa Miller". The phrasing was unfailing, showing Pappano´s knack for dramatic music, and the Orchestra sounded admirable (as listed in the hand programme it is huge, 117 players, but surely fewer came).
Rana is a find: a fantastic and effortless technique that combines a big sound without harshness and impeccable digitation at all speeds. Just one reservation: in the first movement she slowed down too much in certain passages, though generally she dazzled in the virtuosic passages. The accompaniment was very professional. Her encore on Wednesday was beautiful: a Schumann song from "Frauenliebe und Leben" as arranged admirably by Liszt. But on Tuesday her Gigue from Bach´s First Partita sounded like a perfectly executed cross-hands etude rather than a dance.
The symphonies showed both Pappano´s mettle and the orchestra´s quality; except for some horn fluffs the playing was very firm, with attractive solos from the woodwinds and the strings and a warm, in tune, brilliant overall sound. The conductor was orthodox and gave sure readings of both the Tchaikovsky Fifth and that strange and fascinating symphony, Saint-Saëns´ Nº3. The final minutes of the latter were thrilling; organist Daniele Rossi played on the Colón electric organ placed on the avant-scène loge and it sounded good, though never replacing a true pipe organ (impossible at the Colón).
Encores: on Tuesday, "Nimrod" from Elgar´s Enigma Variations, and the last part of Rossini´s "Guillaume Tell". On Wednesday, a marvelous interpretation of Puccini´s Intermezzo from "Manon Lescaut" and a romping close with the galop-like ending to Ponchielli´s "Dance of the Hours" from "La Gioconda".
For Buenos Aires Herald