The fact that Ottorino
Respighi’s reputation rests principally
on the "Roman Trilogy"
has long been something of a mystery.
One has to spend only a few minutes
with this latest Naxos release of
three of his lesser known orchestral
works to appreciate that his abundantly
rich and colourful palette was not
solely confined to the three Roman
works. Even so they were largely considered
to be the pinnacle of his achievement
during his lifetime and have been
chiefly responsible for the continuation
of his reputation since.
Over a period of
some years now Naxos has slowly but
surely been expanding its Respighi
catalogue. This is the fifth disc
dedicated to his orchestral music
and there are also several discs exploring
other aspects of his output.
The Buffalo Philharmonic
Orchestra under its enterprising Musical
Director JoAnn Falletta, has recorded
for Naxos before although this is
the orchestra’s first excursion into
Respighi’s catalogue. On early evidence
at least, it’s a relationship that
is clearly capable of yielding impressive
All three of these
works date from the last decade or
so of Respighi’s life and are closely
contemporaneous with The Pines
of Rome of 1924 and Roman Festivals
of 1928. The first instalment of the
Roman Trilogy, The Fountains of
Rome, had been the first of the
Roman Trilogy to appear some years
earlier in 1917.
JoAnn Falletta and
her orchestra clearly revel in his
luxuriant, exotic world although it
should be added that the Naxos engineers
have done their bit too. The orchestral
sound is magnificent, finely captured
in the equally lavish and eminently
suitable acoustic of the orchestra’s
"home" venue in New York
State. Nowhere is this more evident
than in Vetrate di Chiesa,
or the Four Symphonic Impressions
as the work is subtitled. Church
Windows started its life in the
form of the Three Preludes
for piano, written whilst the composer
was staying on the island of Capri
with his wife Elsa in 1919. It was
in 1925 that the composer expanded
and orchestrated the original three
pieces with the addition of a fourth.
It was Respighi’s friend and librettist
Claudio Guastalla that suggested the
title of Church Windows, interestingly
after the music had been completed.
The titles of the individual "impressions"
came last of all, yet it is to the
credit of Guastalla and Respighi that
"The Flight into Egypt",
"St. Michael the Archangel",
"The Matins of St Clare"
and "St. Gregory the Great"
so aptly reflect grandeur, spirituality
and exoticism. Falletta and the Buffalo
Philharmonic respond with vibrancy
and warmth in equal measure, clearly
revelling in a work that deserves
to occupy a more prominent position
in Respighi’s canon.
Many of the same
sentiments can be used to describe
Brazilian Impressions, a work
that is, if anything, less well known
than Church Windows but which
is wonderfully evocative in its sultry,
South American atmosphere. The languorous
sounds of the extended opening movement
at times Debussian in both its orchestration
and harmonic deftness, is particularly
affecting in the hands of Falletta.
The concluding "Song and Dance"
is a colourful yet ultimately delicate
exploration of Latin dance rhythms
- irresistibly infectious in its good
If there is a disappointment
here - and it would be churlish to
overstate the point - it comes in
the orchestral suite, Rossiniana.
The skill and subtlety of the orchestration
is once again a joy to hear but held
in comparison to Respighi’s better
known Rossini-inspired concoction
La boutique fantasque, the
results are less overtly successful.
That said, this makes as convincing
an argument for its cause as you are
ever likely to hear and there are
occasional passages of real delight,
topped off with a lively Tarantella
replete with echoes of La Danza.
A delight of a disc
then and one which, it is to be hoped,
heralds the further development of
the burgeoning relationship between
Naxos, Falletta and the Buffalo Phil.