Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Feste romane; Pini di Roma
Le Coq d'or (Suite)
The Cleveleand Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel
DECCA Legends 466 993-2 [74:04]

When this 1976 recording was released, the Gramophone reviewer said, "There really is no point in making comparisons here. Maazel's account of Roman Festivals is something of a revelation - by far the finest recording this work has ever achieved. The sophistication of the Decca sound picture is really breathtaking and high praise must be given to the recording team…for the skill and musicality of the balance."

High praise indeed! So what does it sound like now comparing it to all the newer digital recordings that have been released since? Well, for a start this reissue has been refurbished in 96KHz 24-bit digital transfer sound. The result is even more clarity and transparency and added perspectives.

The opening 'Cirenses' of Feste romane has real power and bite, the scene grisly and barbaric, and, as Ivan March writing in the booklet notes, aptly describes it, it has "true Roman gladiatorial vulgarity. The following 'Il giubileo' sounds really magnificent: pacing, phrasing, dynamics - all impressive. The pious pilgrims sound wearied by their journey but their jubilation at their first sight of Rome, and hearing her bells, is breathtaking. 'L'ottobrata' also impresses strongly with the Cleveland's splendid horns leading into the revelry. The lovely mandolin and violin solos are beguiling. The concluding 'La Befana' is a wild and colourful Epiphany celebration that is tremendously exciting.

The accompanying performance of Pini di Roma is something special too. The excited shrieks of children at play among the 'Pines of the Villa Borghèsa' are very convincing and the 'Pines by a Catacomb', beginning in solemnity, develops, via the glowingly hopeful trumpet solo, into a grand crescendo at the sounds of approaching plainchant The 'Janiculum Pines' sound nicely romantic and that nightingale is very sweet and is blended well. The approaching juggernaut that is the Roman legions approaching between the 'Pines of the Appian Way' sounds tremendous.

Instead of Fontane di Roma, we have another first class performance of Rimsky Korsakov's Le Coq d'or with Maazel revealing all its sensuality and colour . The diaphonous sheen on the Cleveland strings in 'King Dodon in his palace', sounds particularly ravishing.

Readers will probably remember that Maazel would record all three Respighi Roman tone poems, with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, for Sony, in 1996. That newer digital recording is impressive too but I prefer these earlier readings by a small margin

Ian Lace

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