It’s good to welcome new recordings of Respighi works other
than the perennially pleasing but ubiquitous Roman trilogy. That’s
especially true of the Rossini-inspired Diaghilev ballet La
Boutique fantasque (The Magic Toy Shop). Indeed,
although the latter follows Impressioni brasiliane in this
programme it’s clearly the main attraction. Most intriguing
is the collaboration between Brazilian conductor John Neschling, who
made his first Respighi recording for BIS in 2008 (review),
and this rarely heard Belgian band. As always BIS make a virtue of
unexpected partnerships, so I fully expect something rather special
That said, I don’t always warm to Neschling’s music-making,
although I do admire his pioneering work with the São Paulo
orchestra. His Hindemith doesn’t really challenge the best in
the catalogue (review),
but his disc of Bernstein, Barber and Bloch with Vadim Gluzman is
much more satisfying (review).
I also recommend his Tchaikovsky and Medtner concertos with Yevgeny
Sudbin, which Chris Howell welcomed on its appearance in 2007 (review).
As for the Liège orchestra I’ve only heard them once,
and on that occasion they made a favourable impression (review).
Brazil seems to have done the same for Respighi, who visited the country
in 1927 and 1928. The three-movement Impressioni brasiliane
– part of a promised suite that was never completed –
begins with a tropical night that’s alive with exotic sounds,
all of which are superbly rendered in this new recording. Until now
I’ve thought JoAnn Falletta and her Buffalonians excellent (review),
but Neschling’s glowing colours and instinctive rhythms are
simply breath-taking. That entwining, liana-like oboe tune is magical,
too. By contrast Geoffrey Simon (Chandos) seems a little rough and
approximate, mere daubs that don’t do justice to Respighi’s
In the past I’ve grumbled about BIS’s frustrating balances,
which make the music seem a tad opaque at low volume. This time it’s
all so delicately aspirated and the ultra-refined sound is a joy to
behold. Couple that with sensitive, finely honed playing and you have
your very own piece of paradise. As for the snakes Respighi saw at
the famous reptile farm in the Butantã district of São
Paulo they are more unsettling in the Simon recording; not only that,
the Dies irae is spookier too. Neschling shapes and shades
the music most beautifully – superior woodwind and immaculate
pizzicati to the fore – and imbues it with a rare subtlety
and narrative strength. Ditto the Song and Dance, which pulses
to the gentlest beat.
I’ve seldom heard Respighi essayed with such finesse and feeling;
indeed, I had to play the piece several times in quick succession,
such is the magic it engenders. This could be a very promising partnership
– if it turns into one – a belief that only grows with
Neschling’s lively, incident-packed La Boutique fantasque.
Based on Rossini’s piano pieces Péchés de
vieillesse – I reviewed some if them here
– the ballet revolves around two cancan dolls who come alive
and fall in love. It's all so effervescent - Arthur Fiedler's two
RCA recordings certainly have enough fizz to pop anyone's cork - but
there's more to this music than just bubbles.
The overture moves with the insouciance of a seasoned boulevardier
out to make a good impression. Respighi’s homage to his irrepressible
forebear can be heard in the twirl and turn of every tune; meanwhile
Neschling strikes just the right balance between mobility and weight,
and his players respond with panache aplenty. The shade of Offenbach
is never far away, especially in the more rumbustious moments, and
it’s difficult to suppress a smile at the teasing geniality
of it all. True, it’s not one of the greatest of the Diaghilev
ballets but it’s one of the most delightful; just sample the
Tarantella, which is dispatched with an ideal blend of good
humour and good taste.
The big-boned Mazurka mixes vigour with a certain charm,
but thankfully climaxes are always well proportioned and playfully
done. Rhythms are sharply pointed and the percussive plosions of the
Cossack Dance are a knock-out. Neschling also brings a metropolitan
lift and lilt to the proceedings, not least in the Cancan.
Everyone is having fun, and I daresay most listeners will experience
that same leap of pleasure on hearing this lovely, levitating performance.
The ensuing Valse lente isn’t the lightest of confections,
but it’s leavened by some gorgeous, gurgling woodwind.
The felicities of this score extend to the atmospheric, harp-led Nocturne;
this really is music that brings to mind Keats’s ‘blushful
Hippocrene’, for it plashes and plays with a profound serenity
that’s most affecting. Needless to say Neschling and his northerly
band infuse the writing with plenty of southern warmth. The concluding
Galop is a perfect fusion of these two worlds, at once cultivated
and carefree. It’s a judicious bit of juggling on Neschling’s
part, and I’m delighted to say he never drops a ball. Which
is why I’d urge you to bin your other recordings of La Boutique
fantasque; really, this is the only one you’ll ever need.
Elegant and engaging; Respighi performances don’t come much
better than this.
Impressioni brasiliane (Brazilian Impressions) (1927-1928)
Notte Tropicale [11:35]
Canzone e Danza [4:31]
La Boutique fantasque (1918) [46:46]
Cossack Dance [4:57]
Valse lente [8:36]