Classical: Glorious Antonio makes his mark


ANTONIO PAPPANO is the young John Barbirolli incarnate, a passionate communicator, a storehouse of adrenaline and an obvious favourite among orchestral players. Last Wednesday's Barbican concert had Mozart's Clarinet Concerto as its centrepiece. The softer episodes were creamy-rich, and the gentle sparring between lead-clarinettist Andrew Marriner and his colleagues made an especially happy statement of the last movement.

The concert had opened with Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces, with their snarls, barks and weirdly gyrating pulses. The third piece, "Peripeteia", opens like a snippet of Pinewood soundtrack. Pappano held fast to the shifting rhythms of "Premonitions" and his blend of "Colours" was equally impressive. No doubt about it, this man knows how to capture a mood.

Brahms came next, his jubilant First Symphony, in a performance that was both vigorous and affectionate. The first movement passed without particular incident but the Andante sostenuto was ardent almost to a fault, with Alexander Barantschik's violin solo sounding like a snippet of concerto. Pappano drove a restless third movement and a triumphant finale, lacking only the sort of piquant phrasing that marks a performance out as truly memorable.

The concert was videoed using advanced CCTV technology which, journalists were told, could be the kind of thing that future visitors might enjoy "live" in an overflow theatre - a brave, relatively low-cost initiative that, given adequate funding, might help spread the Barbican's gospel through terrestrial and satellite TV.

Come Wednesday night, the cameras had gone and Pappano and his band fired off for a high-octane account of Bernstein's On the Town dance sequence, more slapstick than sleaze and with the second movement sounding more than ever like Gershwin. The central act was a stunning account of Prokofiev's brawny Second Piano Concerto where Yefim Bronfman made massive music of the first-movement cadenza and the helter-skelter Scherzo raced out of earshot in a flash.

For the concert's second half, the spotlight shifted back to the orchestra, and to Alexander Barantschik in particular, whose sweet-centred violin playing made a comely seductress of Rimsky's story-telling Scheherazade. Pappano gave his soloists plenty of breathing space for the narrative second movement and the climactic shipwreck found everyone playing flat out. Again, Barbirolli was the most obvious point of comparison. Pappano's selfless enthusiasm, his ability to keep everyone involved, "took me back". Maybe in years to come "Glorious Antonio" will mirror the legacy and achievement of "Glorious John".