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(1879-1936) Transcriptions for Orchestra:
Cinq Études- Tableaux
La Boutique Fantasque
Jesús López-Cobos conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
TELARC CD-80396 [66:09]
(Note: This album was released in 1996)

[Please read this review in conjunction with the review of the new BIS recording of Freddy Kempf playing Rachmaninov's Études-tableaux Op. 39 included in this month's reviews.]

Rachmaninov's originals and Respighi's transcriptions are testimony to the immense skill of both composers: to Rachmaninov who could so vividly evoke so much from just the piano, and to Respighi who could take that inspiration, expand and deepen the pictures and add much more drama and atmosphere, while retaining Rachmaninov's essential style.

Respighi's contribution to 'Sea and seagulls' which is Étude No. 2 Op. 39, adds more depth and colour to the movement of the sea, and makes the scene more dramatic and bleaker particularly with the insistence of the Dies irae theme. The second Étude is the only one that comes from Op 33 and is a highly colourful and exuberant fairground scene. The 'Marche Funèbre' that is Étude 7 of Op. 39 is imposing giving the impression that this is a funeral of a very important figure, a hero, maybe a general. The music is definitely martial with the drum taps so prominent. Respighi cleverly suggests the mourners huddled against heavy, slanting, penetrating rain while the choir sings off-stage in the church and the bells toll mightily. 'Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf', is the subject of Respighi's fourth transcribed Étude, No. 6 of Op. 39. The growlings of the wolf are hair-raising, indeed, you can almost 'feel' his hot breath as he greedily surveys the child tripping merrily off to her grandmother's oblivious of his evil machinations. The final Étude No. 9 from Op. 39 is a typical bombastic Rachmaninov march but one might detect an almost Copland-like overlay. After all, it was Serge Koussevitzky (conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra) who thought of Respighi as the ideal orchestrator of the Études-tableaux and put the idea to Rachmaninov.

Jesús Lopez-Cobos readings are vividly coloured and very atmospheric. He faces much more competition, though, with the very popular La Boutique Fantasque so vibrant and full of glorious tunes. Rossini's' captivating melodies were actually composed when the composer had retired from writing operas, they were written for small groups of friends in domestic surroundings. Recommended recordings: Andrew Davis (CBS Masterworks) and Charles Dutoit (Decca). But the adventurous will go for the Rachmaninov transcriptions


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

Reviews from previous months

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