by Michael Lyons, Music Director
This one is an oldie but a goodie. No, make that an oldie but a greatie. My favorite Respighi recording of all time.
When we think Impressionism in music right away we think of the French master—Claude Debussy. He was largely responsible for inventing vagueness in music—blurring the lines as it were through the use of exotic scales and nebulous harmonic language leaving the audio equivalent of lovely, softly muted pastel paintings of real or quasi-real images.
Ottorino Respighi, who was less of a master composer and more a master orchestrator, took the idea of musical impressionism and injected all that was Italian. Alongside the pastel portrayals of Debussy, Respighi’s scores shimmer with an Italinate zest, with orchestral spices and with bold primary colors leading the way. His ability to create a Debussy-like softness is always evident and seems that much more effective because it serves as a contrast rather than a constant as is more often the case in Debussy’s orchestral writing.
Antal Dorati brings these Respighi scores to life—they are so real you’ll want to reach out and touch the dew-moistened trees in The Pines of Rome, you’ll need to wipe the mist from your brow after you visit The Fountains of Rome, and I know that everytime I listen to The Cuckoo from The Birds I find myself running and looking in the mirror.
Recorded in 1957 and reissued in 1990 this fine recording has yet to make it to the SACD round of reissues that the legendary Mercury catalogue in currently undergoing. In spite of a little tape hiss you will not find a more satisfying performance of Respighi on disc.
While Fountains is considered by most to be Respighi’s strongest overall composition Pines continues to be my sentimental favorite. The opening Valie Giulia instantly recalls that great old Chef Boy ‘r’ Dee television commercial with children in short pants running amongst the pigeons and shrieking with delight. Dorati instantly throws us into the somber depths of the Pines near a Catacomb, so dark and dank you instantly feel a chill from the abrupt loss of sunlight. His most delicate orchestral painting ever comes beautifully to life in this recording in the ethereal Pines of the Janiculum with a distant sweet clarinet song adorned by actual bird calls , then Dorati and his Minneapolis Symphony deliver a Pines of the Appian Way that will cause an emotional aching in your chest from the prolonged building of resources which leads to a resounding finale.
Keep this disc in an easy to find place and use it as your Instant-Mediterranean-Getaway-In-a-Jewel-Box, the perfect for anti-dote to the grey Ontario winter.
(MERCURY 432 007 2)