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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Vetrate di chiesa (Church Windows) (1925) [24:59]
Impressioni brasiliane (Brazilian Impressions) (1927-28) [19:06]
Rossiniana: Suite for Orchestra (1925) [21:06]
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, New York, 20-21 March 2006
NAXOS 8.557711 [65:26]
Experience Classicsonline

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 results.

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 "Tropical Night", 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 humour.

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.

Christopher Thomas


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