Fountains of Rome; Pines of Rome; Roman Festivals
Sinfonia of London/John Wilson
Chandos CHSA5261 (SACD) 60:06 mins
Chandos already has a robust disc of the ‘Roman Trilogy’ in its catalogue, with Yan Pascal Tortelier leading the Philharmonia. That was recorded 30 years ago, however, and there’s no doubt that sonically this new version is more sophisticated – especially in SACD or high-res download format.
John Wilson’s conducting has more nuance too. In ‘L’Ottobrata’ from Feste Romane, for instance, Tortelier leans heavily on the slicing string figurations, while Wilson takes an altogether more balletic approach. But there is no lack of wallop – the opening of ‘Circenses’ has tremendous adrenaline, with spitting trumpets and a pleasing snap to the lower brass instruments.
The sinuous exoticism of the Valle Giulia fountain in Fontane di Roma is seductively caught, with wonderfully expressive wind playing. The Triton fountain sparkles with vitality, the Trevi explodes in midday splendour and Wilson distils a poignant afterglow in the Villa Medici sunset.
Pini di Roma brings, of course, the gargantuan apotheosis of the Appian Way finale, and Wilson and the Sinfonia nail it with stunning verve and assurance. The opening Villa Borghese movement bursts with colourful activity, but the expressive subtlety of the playing is also very striking – Wilson’s Catacomb is dank and lugubrious, and the atmosphere in the Janiculum pines is tinglingly nocturnal.
There are dozens of versions of Respighi’s ‘Roman Trilogy’ available, but I’ve heard none better than this. The orchestral playing is magnificent, and its joy and exuberance are a tonic at this anxious, isolated period.