Not all recordings made in 1990 either call for or deserve SACD
treatment. Indeed some SACD incarnations of older material have
been less than valuable additions to the catalogues. This one however
sounds first class even when played on an ordinary set up – spatial
depth and a real sense of visceral power.
Geoffrey Simon made
a series of fine Respighi recordings with the Philharmonia around
this time. They responded well to him and he in turn extracted
the marrow of nourishment from Respighi’s primary coloured bone.
One might otherwise write off the gruesome ballet Ballad
of the Gnomes but Simon cuts to the quick and brings out
its profusion of Straussian rhetoric with vivid immediacy. This
was the apparently the work’s first ever recording. Taken up
and then dropped by Toscanini and Reiner we had to wait until
its disc incarnation in this performance to realise how an overheated
poem could bring out the rapacious in Respighi. The gaudy opening
is followed by a suggestive dawn – fine contributions from the
wind section principals – and impressionist hues. The colouristic
richness one might expect from Respighi is here augmented by
cinematic avidity, by a Dance of the Seven Veils delirium,
rhythmic snap and a pulsating sense of drama. The poem on which
it’s based, by Carlo Clausetti, is pure tosh - and hyper-sexualised
tosh about dwarves into the bargain - but Respighi serves up
a giddy backdrop for it.
is the best-known work in the disc and those Botticelli
Pictures offer moments of rampant pleasure once more. Simon
is hardly the first conductor, and nor will he be the last,
to lavish affection on the three. But he brings out real transparency
in the textures that will give Respighi-lovers plenty of time
to savour the aristocracy of some of the writing. So too the
warmth of the string cantilevering in Veni, veni Emmanuel
in the central panel – there’s some Stokowskian ardour here
to be sure – with the more oriental writing emerging with elastic
deliberation. Try the last of the three as well, The Birth of
Venus and luxuriate in its rippling romance, with power held
sufficiently in reserve to register the more telling in its
climax. Not a piece to set before Simon Schama, unless one relishes
the sight of salivating academic lips.
A moment of fresh
baroque invention follows in the shape of the Suite in G major.
This was a famous Respighi forte and Simon doesn’t disappoint
in evoking the unselfconscious lyricism embedded within. The
Preludio is Bach-like (but all Respighi’s own invention) but
the core is the Aria, a soulful song full of melting lyricism
naturally unfettered by any virus of Historically Informed Practice.
The organ is gently suggestive in the light Pastorale but ups
the masculine ante in the noble Cantico. Respighi’s compatriot,
the cellist Gaspar Cassado, was a fine exponent of the Adagio
with variations for cello and orchestra. Here Alexander Baillie
takes the honours. He’s not spotlit, as befits the piece, rather
he’s subsumed more into the orchestral patina. It’s a rhapsodic
and rather beautiful work, spun out with grace and a certain
melancholy. It thrives on disc, as it’s mercilessly difficult
to programme in concert, and this performance is worthy to sit
beside the Cassado Vox Box on one’s shelves.
This disc is part
bravura, part lyric painting - part Caravaggio, part Botticelli.
With eloquent performances and that SACD sound Respighi adherents
who missed its first appearance will want to add this to their