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La Boutique Fantasque (ballet to music of Rossini) P120 (1919)
La pentola magica P129 (1920)
Prelude and Fugue in D major, P158 (1901)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda.
Rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 2nd, 5th and 6th October 2002 DDD
CHANDOS CHAN-10081 [79’35"]

I approached this release with more than a little trepidation as the only evidence of Noseda’s work with the BBC Philharmonic was a freebie given away with a recent issue of the BBC Music Magazine, of works by Prokofiev including a dreary performance of the 5th Symphony.

I need not have worried though as this Chandos release is in a totally different class. I have never heard Respighi’s best known transcription in a better performance – it glitters and has a tremendous sweep from start to finish and outclasses all of the competition including Bonynge on Decca, the previous normal first choice. The BBC/Chandos recording has captured every nuance of this performance, and all associated with this release can be immensely proud of the results.

The ballet is given complete, with all of the bridging passages intact, sometimes omitted in recordings of the suite which has often been released.

The story of the ballet covers the life in one day in the life of a toyshop. Foreign visitors to a Toyshop in Nice about 1865 are enchanted by the magical qualities of the toys on display which are demonstrated by the toyshop owner. The pièce de resistance is two cancan dancers who so impress the visitors that they make bids for the two characters, and it is agreed that one dancer should go to each of the two customers. They are packed up separately as evening approaches. Unknown to all but us and the collective toys, the two cancan dancers are in love and distraught at having to be separated.

Once the shop has been closed for the night, the toys all come to life and reunite our hapless dancers, and they as a Hollywood script would say "dance the night away." Come morning, the dancers abscond and when customers return for their purchases, they are so angry that they start to attack the unfortunate owner. The toys however come to life and protect the owner by driving the customers from the store. Needless to say, the cancan dancers reappear and everyone is united again.

The second ballet on the disc, La pentola magica (The Magic Pot). The ballet is in the form of a series of Russian themes in the style of lesser known Russian composers. The ballet was never performed during Respighi’s lifetime and seems to have been written for the composer’s own enjoyment.

Needless to say, the lyrical inspiration is not at the level of La Boutique Fantasque, but it is well worth the airing it gets in this superb issue. The orchestration is typical Respighi – strings, a small complement of woodwind and brass, percussion, celesta and harp.

The disc is rounded off by a very impressive reading of Respighi’s well known transcription of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue BWV 532. Respighi had a bit of a thing with transcribing works by J. S. Bach, and this Prelude and Fugue is a superb example of Respighi’s skill at converting well known and well loved music into a new, fresh piece of music which can be listened to in its own guise without sounding like an arrangement. Respighi, a keen organist in his early days understood well not only the themes and construction but also the gut-wrenching effect of Bach at his greatest. This transcription delivers the goods in abundance, and I can thoroughly recommend this superb example of Chandos’s technical and musical skill, to say nothing of the wonderful performances by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and their new chief conductor. More please!!!

John Phillips

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