Respighi

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Respighi
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Respighi
WORKS: Metamorphoseon; Belkis, Regina di Saba; Ballata delle gnomidi
PERFORMER: Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège/John Neschling
CATALOGUE NO: BIS 2130 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Respighi was said not to have rated his Metamorphoseon highly, though it’s unclear why. It’s even more unclear listening to this excellent new recording, which catches evocatively the work’s brooding, murky tints, and its tendency to sudden irruptions of temperament. ‘Modus II’ (the piece is built in self-contained variation sections) has one of these, and shows Neschling and his Liège musicians sharply responsive to Respighi’s abrupt flexing of muscle.

There’s a splash of Brahms’s Haydn Variations in the orchestral palette, and the theme’s initial statement has archaic colourations recalling Vaughan Williams’s refraction of Thomas Tallis. Metamorphoseon is, however, anything but drily academic. ‘Modus IV’ has an intensity of emotion rivalling Mahler in its central climax, while ‘Modus VII’ has memorably introspective soliloquies for harp, solo violin and cello. If there’s a better, more atmospheric recording of the piece than Neschling’s, I haven’t heard it.

Ballata delle gnomidi rivals Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin in its luridity and snuff-movie scenario, and yields nothing in the cutting edge and power of its orchestration. The woodwind arabesquerie fleetingly deployed in Metamorphoseon is multiplied in Belkis, Regina di Saba to evoke the exotic Queen of Sheba, and the allure she casts on Solomon.

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There’s a marginal lack of tension and eroticism at the opening of ‘Solomon’s Dream’, and of sultriness in ‘Belkis’s Dawn Dance’, but the orgiastics in the two other dances electrify, especially on the high-resolution SACD layer. Terry Blain