Respighi: Fountains of Rome; Pines of Rome; Roman Festivals; Il tramonto

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Respighi
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Respighi
WORKS: Fountains of Rome; Pines of Rome; Roman Festivals; Il tramonto
PERFORMER: Christine Rice (soprano); Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: 394 4292

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Amazingly few Italian orchestras record Respighi’s so-called Roman trilogy, and this new rendition is of such impressive quality that it could easily scare off potential future competition. Pappano’s gift is to constantly delve well beyond the reputation these tone-poems have as technically brilliant display pieces devoid of deeper content. Try to listen, for instance, to the plangency of the woodwind playing at the rapt opening of ‘Fountain of Valle Giulia’, or the translucent sifting of textures in a magical ‘Villa Medici Fountain’, without becoming riveted. The Santa Cecilia orchestra certainly has sheer muscular heft where needed – ‘Pines of the Appian Way’ builds with relentless tread and a telling sense of theatricality to its thundering peroration. In Roman Festivals, noisiest of the trilogy (Respighi called it his ‘maximum of orchestral sonority and colour’), Pappano again succeeds in conjuring something momentous from ‘Circenses’ and ‘La Befana’, both potential battering-ram movements. The Shelley setting for soprano Il tramonto (full-strings version) makes for a highly attractive bonus item. There’s cut-throat competition for the Roman Trilogy, not least a two-disc super-budget set on Brilliant Classics featuring Riccardo Muti’s celebrated Philadelphia taping. In most respects, though, I’d be more than happy having Pappano as the one version in my personal collection. He liberates emotion and sensibility from scores too often presented merely as technicolor treatises on late Romantic orchestration. Terry Blain

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Reviewed November 2007