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Ottorini RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Feste Romane: 1.Circenses [4:33]; 2. Il giubileo [7:21]; 3. L’ottobrata [7:42]; 4. La Befana [5:01];
Fontane di Romana: 5. La Fontana di Valle Giulia all’alba [5:21]; 6. La Fontana del Tritone al mattino [2:39]; 7. La Fontana di Trevi al merrigio [3:32]; 8. La Fontana di Villa Medici al tramonto [6:14];
Pini di Roma: 9. I Pini di Villa Borghese [2:36]; 10. Pini presso una catacomba [7:39]; 11. I pini del Gianicolo [7:31]; 12. I pini della Via Appia [5:18]
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Daniele Gatti
Recorded 14-16 October 1996 at Auditorio Via della Concilliazione, Rome
RCA RED SEAL 82876 60869 2 [65:54]


Daniele Gatti is a conductor who, whether fairly or not, has developed something of a reputation as an excitement-seeker, at the opposite end of the conducting spectrum from, say, Bernard Haitink. Is this charge of sensation-seeking justified?

Well, Respighi is hardly the composer to help him out! After all, the works on this CD, which together comprise the composer’s Roman triptych, are truly sensational, in that Respighi concentrates on sensual impressions; this music makes a visceral impact on our emotions, without the need for very much cerebral interference. So you have to abandon yourself to it. And that, in a sense, makes Gatti the ideal interpreter, for he and the Santa Cecilia orchestra go for broke in giving the music its expressive and pictorial head. The temperament helps; Gatti and his players have the surge of Latin adrenalin that is needed, and the result is a heady experience.

That is not to say that the playing lacks subtlety; the first of the Fountains has the utmost delicacy, with very sensitive quiet wind playing. The complex textures of I pini di Villa Borghese, with their stylistic nod to the Stravinsky of Petroushka, are brought to glittering life with great clarity. At the other extreme, I have never heard the gloom and oppressiveness of the second movement, a compelling description of pines near a catacomb, characterised more strongly.

The recording is a huge help; the RCA engineers have managed to achieve a wonderful sense of perspective, so that the trumpets near the beginning of Circenses in Feste Romane, an intimidating picture of Christians facing death by lion in the Circus Maximus, ring out as if from on high. One small disadvantage is that, like many modern recordings, it has a startlingly wide dynamic range, such that it is quite difficult to set a level that enables you to hear clearly the very soft music, yet not get blown into next door’s sitting-room in the tuttis! I managed though.

Then there’s that nightingale; at the very end of the 3rd movement of Pini di Roma, a sensuous nocturnal evocation, Respighi asks for a recording of an actual nightingale song to be played very softly. I’ve always felt that this was a mistake, which only serves to irritate and distract at the close of one of the composer’s loveliest creations (and how like Delius it is!). Others may feel differently, and at least the engineers have kept it very discreet.

Finally, to return to Gatti’s alleged seeking of short-term musical goals; the finale of Pini, that outrageously magnificent portrayal of the victorious Roman army returning along the Via Appia, is actually built up in the most impressive way. Rather than let everything fly at the first tutti (as Muti does, for example, in his Philadelphia recording, fine thought that is), Gatti just keeps building up and up, so the effect is thrilling and overwhelming.

So my doubts had all faded away by the end of this. We do not think of Italy as the natural home of great orchestral playing, but there is no denying the brilliance of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. This version of the triptych is going to take some beating – as to Gatti, sensational, yes, but that’s meant as a compliment!

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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