Pappano's Rimsky and Mussorgsky

it is wonderful to hear the St Cecilia forces in such fine fettle.

Pappano's Rimsky and Mussorgsky

For the 2024/25 season, Sir Antonio Pappano ceded his position at the orchestra of Santa Cecilia in Rome to Daniel Harding; Pappano remains Conductor Emeritus.

This is the finest modern Sheherazade: I remember being umbilically attached to an LP by Kirill Kondrashin and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (what a tragedy that that relationship could not continue - Kondrashin really was one of the great conductors). Pappano takes the baton for the modern age.

Pappano has a great solo violin (the score is jull of sinewy violin solos and cadenzas); Carlo Maria Parazzoli (I seem to remember it was Hermann Krebbers for Kondrashin, who also furnished the solos for Haitink's classic Concertgebouw Heldenleben). The orchestra is clearly well-rehearsed, the conception beautifully shaped. Most of all it is the sense of narration (with violin as primary narrator and orchestra as commentator) that comes across. Individual contributions are notable, particularly perhaps the solo bassoon solos in the first movement, “The Sea and Sinbad's Ship”:

One oft most impressive movements is “The Young Prince and The Young Princess,” smooth rhythms inviting us in, as if to share a confidence., its lilting Siciliana seductive and Orientally-graced with woodwind arabesques:

Pappano takes the music to its polar opposite in the fourth movement, “Festival at Baghdad”; the opening is positively manic, later this is a whirling dance that swipes the listener off their feet:

There are some pieces that just need the right conductor and orchestra for them to he beard inter best light: I remember a performance of Scheherazade in which I played (Surrey Philharmonic Orchestra) that frankly was full of longeurs; it is not a short piece, and it can feel every minute of its duration. But Pappano makes the best possible case for this festival of pictures painting in music.

Here, for comparison, is the Kondrashin referenced earlier:


It is a luxury to have not only the original of Night on a Bare Mountain, but also the vocal/choral version that made its way into Sorochintsky Fair (orchestrated by Shebalin). This has the advantage of being a live performance, and how that comes across in terms of excitement; the primal scoring (in comparison with Rimsky's upholstered version) and rhythmic complexities really make their mark:

It is wonderful, too, to have the version from Sorochintsky Fair (rendered here as “The Fair at Sorochyntski” - the delights of transliteration). Dayan Vatchkov is the bass-baritone soloist, and while in both of these Pappano comes up against Abbado, he really holds his own. The Santa Cecilia Chorus is in fine voice, too, and for all of Vatchkov's excellence, it is teh final passage with choir and ouches that is simply magical:


The recording, throughout, is top class: though a fine system (or on superb headphones), prepare for a sonic treat. And it is wonderful to hear the St Cecilia forces in such fine fettle. In the final analysis for the Rimsky I don't think Pappano completely erases Kondrashin, but as shelf-mates (or indeed adjacent computer files), they get along very nicely indeed.

At the time of writing, the is a whopping 74% off at Amazon (£3.09; accessed Sunday May 5)

Sheherazade op. 35 | IDAGIO
Listen to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade op. 35, performed by Antonio Pappano, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Discover and compare alternative recordings.