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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Brazilian Impressions (1927-8) [21:36]
La Boutique fantasque (1918) [47:18]
Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège/John Neschling
rec. April 2013, Salle Philharmonique, Liège, Belgium
BIS BIS-SACD-2050 [68:54]

It only makes sense that a great Italian composer’s evocations of life in Brazil could receive a great performance at the hands of a Belgian orchestra for a Swedish record company, right? This is one of the best things about globalization. John Neschling, whose previous Respighi album was an instant classic, returns for more and delivers top-quality results yet again. The Liège orchestra summons up Brazilian sounds better than one could imagine; listen especially to the seductive woodwind solos in the nocturne, and in particular the fruity, playful timbre of the clarinets. The Brazilian-born Neschling must have infused these players with the spirit of his home country’s dances, but the nocturne takes up half the piece, and the amount of color and vibrancy achievable under the light of the moon is a testament to composer and performers.
Then there’s La Boutique fantasque, the ballet based on Rossini tunes, forty-five minutes of pure nonstop good times. I should pause to point out that BIS has, once again, produced the kind of recorded sound which actually makes the interpretations themselves even more praiseworthy: absolute and total clarity, but flattering rather than clinical. Every color and effect Rossini dreamed up is audible; his total mastery of the orchestra, and the orchestra’s total mastery of the music, are on vivid, high-definition display. This is a big improvement over my other favorite Boutique, with Alexander Gibson and the Scottish National Orchestra on Chandos.
The piece is unremitting fun, and if I didn’t know it was about toys coming to life in the toy-shop and falling in love, my theory would be that it depicted a three-day-long Italian wedding extravaganza with a whole truck full of wine. I could put the famous second-movement tarantella on repeat — and notice how the cymbal player, not normally someone you’d single out for praise, manages to save the repetitive crash-crash-crash-crash from being sloppy or irritating. The orchestra’s playing throughout is totally exquisite, with the woodwinds again coming up for special commendations. In the “Can-can”, the muted trumpets sound like inspiration for Shostakovich.
My colleague Dan Morgan already wrote that this album is something special and I’m inclined to agree. May there be more Respighi forthcoming from Neschling; after two albums, it’s safe to say he is one of the finest advocates this composer has ever had, delivering all the fireworks and the depth too.
Brian Reinhart
Previous review: Dan Morgan