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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
CD 1 [77:12]
Vetrate di chiesa, P150 (1925-26) [26:46]
Metamorphoseon modi XII, P169 (1930) [25:37]
Feste romane, P157 (1928) [24:24]
CD 2 [80:14]
Fontane di Roma, P106 (1915-16) [16:40]
Pini di Roma, P141 (1923-24) [21:48]
Belkis, regina di Saba - Suite for Orchestra, P177 (1934) [22:31]
Impressioni brasiliane, Suite for Orchestra, P153 (1928) [18:46]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Geoffrey Simon; Yan Pascal Tortelier
rec. All Saints' Church, Tooting, London, 17-18 January 1984 (Vetrate di chiesa, Impressioni brasiliane), 21 and 22 January 1985 (Metamorphoseon modi, XII, Belkis Saba; 15 -16 April 1991 (Roman trilogy)
CHANDOS CHAN 241-45 [77:12 + 80:14]

Before the Edward Downes/BBCPO project Chandos boasted two sumptuous Respighi discs with the Philharmonia and Geoffrey Simon. They appeared in 1984-85 within the half decade after the launch of the CD medium. Then in 1991 Yan Pascal Tortelier and the same orchestra recorded Respighi’s Roman triptych.
 
For me the central selling point here is Vetrate di chiesa (Church Windows) glowingly recorded by Ormandy and the Philadelphia in 1964 on Sony-CBS but in sound that could not hope to vie with that accorded by Chandos two decades later. You need only listen to the skipping acrobatic woodwind and legato address of the strings in Metamorphoseon modi XII to realise that. That’s not the end of it, either. The plangency of the harp registers strongly. It helps greatly that for this work Chandos have retained separate tracks for each variation-metamorphosis. Respighi’s fund of colour, generously spent, defeats any concerns that these variants will have a Reger-like matte quality – quite the contrary. Feste Romane is from Tortelier. It is aptly exuberant and over the top. Who was responsible for casting encouraging smiles towards the brass benches? By heck, is this loud?!
 
CD 2 starts with the famous Fontane di Roma. Everything is outsize and spectacular. There is no room here for tasteful understatement; neither do we get any. This is Rimsky-Korsakov (Respighi’s teacher) on steroids. Much same goes for Pini di Roma although I wish the bubbling horns could have been given more attentive prominence. Then we return to Simon for the exotic ballet suite Belkis, regina di Saba and the Impressioni brasiliane. In Belkis Simon fires up the orchestra to match the Rimskian opulence of the sounds with a dashing and whirling exuberance redolent of El Salón México in Danza Guerresca and Danza orgiastica. It’s all worthy of the Ballets Russes. The Impressione are painted with an impressionistic brush and magic is not in short supply.
 
The notes are the originals from Edward Johnson (CHAN8405, 8317) and Jeremy Siepmann.
 
Simon – who later recorded for his own Cala label – has the measure of these rapturously profligate works, as does Tortelier.
 
This Chandos 2-for-1 set is irresistibly generous and lavishly recorded. I do not see a more attractive entry point for Respighi in his most eloquent and spendthrift style. Mind you we might have to fall back and regroup if Chandos ever reissue their complete Respighi-Downes series.

Rob Barnett