Symphony No. 2; plus ‘Antonio Pappano Plays & Explains Sergei Rachmaninoff’
Staatskapelle Dresden/Antonio Pappano
EuroArts 0880242676481 105 mins (DVD)
The most beautiful auditorium in the world? Dresden’s Semperoper has to be one of them. And it says something about even the former East Germany’s attitude to its cultural heritage that, like the rest of Dresden, this jewel in the city’s musical crown was (eventually) rebuilt from a bombed-out wartime ruin to look as far as possible as it did before. With an acoustic that’s as fine as the exquisite surrounding décor (pink and orange-red, decorated with gold leaf), the auditorium doubles as the concert hall of the opera house’s orchestra, which performs its orchestral programmes there as the Dresden Staatskapelle.
Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, completed in 1908 during the composer’s three-year stay in the city, in that sense has a special association with the Staatskapelle. They play it to a standard that’s in line with their standing as one of the world’s special orchestras – silky strings, wonderfully blended woodwind chording, and a brass section to match anyone’s anywhere (the quiet peroration towards the end of the Scherzo movement is one of many such moments). The film editing, not too restless by today’s standards, spotlights the balance of youth and experience in the string sections, with scrupulously poker-faced older players alongside younger colleagues whose enjoyment in being part of such an orchestra is unmistakable. Pappano conducts with his trademark energy, avoiding excessive juice-extraction of the music’s late-Romantic idiom, and gives the orchestra plenty of time and space to deliver in their classy way. The accompanying ‘documentary’ isn’t really that – it consists mostly of Pappano talking about the music and illustrating it at the piano.