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Respighi: Transcriptions

Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège/John Neschling (BIS)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Respighi Transcriptions
JS Bach: Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV 532; Passacaglia in C minor; Tre Corale; Rachmaninov: Cinq Etudes-Tableaux
Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège/John Neschling
BIS BIS-2350 (CD/SACD)   59:08 mins

Scuttling double basses duetting with chirruping woodwinds, scampering violins with brass counterpoint and the occasional boom of timpani: it’s Bach, but not as we traditionally know it. Respighi is one of the great orchestrators, and his transcription of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D major for organ is first and foremost a joyful celebration of the music, lovingly accoutred in the finery of the modern symphony orchestra. But this is not a bombastic, over-the-top transcription. The conclusion of the Prelude roils and rumbles, seeming to anticipate the explicit emotionalism of early Romanticism, yet it’s never heavy-handed. And the fugue that follows is delightfully spruce in John Neschling’s hands, with a twinkling, four-hand piano getting a look-in at one point.

Bigger guns are wheeled out for the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, a transcription commissioned by Toscanini. Again Respighi’s treatment combines a chamber-like delicacy with power and athleticism in tutti passages, and it’s extraordinary how often the music gives the impression of dating from a much later period.

In the five Études-Tableaux by Rachmaninov, Respighi’s alchemy lends coloristic allure and an amplified sense of atmosphere to the piano originals. Rachmaninov found the results ‘amazing’, and BIS’s vivid recorded sound adds an extra tingle factor.


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Terry Blain