Curiously, for a country that has created so much music, Italy has struggled to produce a world class symphony orchestra to match those from Berlin, Vienna, London and America. Partly due to the influence of the current director of music at London’s Royal Opera House, Antonio Pappano, that has now changed. Pappano has been conductor of the Rome-based Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia since 2005, and has propelled them into the front rank of world orchestras. Their short English tour (marking the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy) opened at The Anvil before moving on to Birmingham and Manchester. Their Basingstoke concert started with Verdi’s Aida Sinfonia, written to introduce the famous opera but withdrawn before the first performance. If you want all the emotion and intensity of Italian opera without any singing and all over in less than ten minutes, then I recommend this work. Its enigmatically dreamy opening leads via a wide range of drama to the rhumbustuous conclusion.

© Musacchio&Ianniello
© Musacchio&Ianniello

Drama of a larger scale came with Liszt’s First Piano Concerto, played with immense power by the Russian pianist Boris Berezovsky. But the real drama of the evening came after the interval with Mahler’s monumental First Symphony, a work that shocked audiences when it was first performed in 1889 and still carries immense power, particularly under the baton of a conductor with the inner fire of Antonio Pappano. The extraordinary colours produced by the extremely impressive Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, combined with some exquisite playing from many orchestral soloists, produced a memorable evening of music making. The conclusion of the Mahler symphony, during which no fewer than eight horn players, a trumpeter and trombonist stand to blaze out the triumphantly heroic chorale, was memorable. Mahler twice conducted this orchestra shortly after its formation in 1908. He would have been proud of this performance.