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Antonio Pappano’s Debut

Verizon Hall of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
12/13/2007 -  December *14 and 15
Mikhail Glinka: Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila
Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major
Sergei Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor

Simon Trpceski (piano)
Philadelphia Orchestra, Antonio Pappano (conductor)

As Christoph Eschenbach rounds out his final season as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, conductors are vying to claim the podium. Until now, Vladimir Jurowski has led the field. He has stiff competition from Antonio Pappano, who made an electrifying debut that roused a lethargic subscription audience to standing applause and cheers.

Pappano launched his all-Russian program with a breathlessly buoyant performance of the Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila. He charged Glinka’s music with dynamic energy. The orchestra responded with razor-sharp attacks and virtuoso playing. This exhilarating performance swept to a brilliant conclusion.

Then Pappano led the orchestra through a demonic account of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. In his Philadelphia Orchestra début, Simon Trpceski pounced on Prokofiev’s music with animal intensity. His playing had scale and impact but also delicacy. Pappano supported the soloist with a flexible accompaniment. Both the conductor and pianist exploited the rapid shifts of mood in the concerto before their interpretation surged to a thrilling climax.

During intermission, subscribers tried to recall when a guest conductor generated so much heat and excitement in his debut. Probably not since Riccardo Muti charged into Philadelphia more than three decades ago. Pappano shares Muti’s keen rhythmic sense and his flair for injecting genuine temperament into a musical performance. Also like Muti, he knows how to voice the music so that every instrumental line emerges clearly and cleanly. Unlike Muti, Pappano revels in the rich sonorities the Philadelphia Orchestra can produce. He proved that in the gorgeous performance of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 that crowned his début.

Rachmaninov himself led the Philadelphia première of the symphony almost a century ago. Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy left their personal stamp on this score. So did Pappano.

From the opening measures, Rachmaninov’s music soared into flight. The lyrical episodes floated magically on gossamer wings. The big climaxes erupted in a flood of intensely colored sound. Pappano infused the music with genuine drama. Reveling in the orchestra’s virtuosity, he spontaneously urged the musicians to one thrilling climax after another.
With this stunning performance, Pappano joins Jurowski at the head of the line in the Philadelphia Orchestra’s search for Eschenbach’s successor.

Robert Baxter



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