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

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Respighi
LABELS: Exton
ALBUM TITLE: Respighi
WORKS: Pines of Rome; Fountains of Rome; Roman Festivals
PERFORMER: Radio PO Holland/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: OVCL-00217 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Respighi’s Roman trilogy should be a gift to multichannel sound. The Exton recording, though, is rather closely balanced and lacks the extra breadth of soundstage and spatial definition that SACD should deliver. This is immediately apparent in the opening ‘Villa Borghese’ of Pines, where upper strings are forwardly balanced, and have a sharp, glassy edge to them which grates with repeated listening. Important woodwind decoration is occluded, and depth of perspective limited. Interpretatively Ashkenazy drives too hard here, the overall effect bustling but superficial. He is better in the later movements, building to a beefy, if somewhat congested ‘Appian Way’ climax. In the more lightly scored ‘Valle Giulia’ movement which opens Fountains, Ashkenazy’s broad brush doesn’t really suit this pictorially detailed music. Nor does it work well in Festivals, which needs more than the brash assault it’s subjected to here to overcome its inherent musical unevenness. The booklet notes are in Japanese only. 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