RESPIGHI - Roman Trilogy

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OTTORINO RESPIGHI - Pines of Rome - Fountains of Rome - Roman Festivals - Josep Caballé-Domenech (Conductor) - Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - 880040408321 - Released: June 2011 - Onyx 4083

My very first exposure to this music, if I'm not mistaking, goes all the way back to 1959, when I had a recording on vinyl of the Feste Romana (Roman Festivals) that I just simply couldn't put down. It was on the Everest label with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Eugene Goossens. The picture on the cover was of a fierce looking stone lion that, along with the music, would send my imagination soaring back to the days of ancient Roman empires which, as seen through the mind's eye of a young boy, included many lions, swords, chariots and gladiators. Fast forward over 50 years later, and these wonderful orchestral tone poems by Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) still impress me every time I hear them, and now evoke so many more images than they did back then. They are quite simply orchestral masterpieces into which Respighi injected a measure of the human spirit that brings the music to life. Sonic splendours of the 20th century orchestral repertoire, full of aural candy from the softest string shimmers to the loudest brass and percussion muscle.

The woodwinds and strings of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra are stunning in this particular recording and produce some magical moments throughout the music, in particular during the Pine Trees near a Catacomb, Il Giubileo, and I don't remember ever hearing as beautiful a rendition of the Pine Trees of the Janiculum. The way the strings just seem to melt back in after the song of a nightingale is very moving. The sound engineers at Onyx bring an extra touch to The Pines of the Appian Way by adding a bit of reverb to the recording, which well conveys the spectral image of an ancient Roman army marching to their final glory. And out of the many recordings I've listened to over the years, this is the first time I've been able to actually hear the pipe organ nestled within the orchestra during this movement, and again a few times during the Roman Festivals.

Conductor Josep Caballé-Domenech, who studied conducting with Sergiu Comissiona and David Zinman, delivers one of the finest accounts I've heard in many years, full of detail, full of imagery, cinematic in scope but yet touching. And when drunken revelry, muscle and sonic savagery are required during the final La Befana, he's right there with the best of them. And wait 'til you hear the organ pedal notes underpinning the orchestra. If you've never heard these magnificent works by Respighi, you don't know what you're missing. If you have, then treat yourself to this fine new recording.

Jean-Yves Duperron - August 2011