RESPIGHI Ancient Airs and Dances
This is, first and foremost, a thoughtful disc of great charm. Under violinist-conductor Henry Raudales, the Munich Radio Orchestra approach Respighi’s Baroque reworkings with fastidious care and exquisite attention to detail. Ancient Airs and Dances comes complete, its three suites carefully differentiated as to tone and mood, tacitly reminding us that they were assembled, written and arranged over a period of 15 years, and that they constitute contrasting exercises in orchestration and sonority.
The First, for small orchestra and dating from 1917, is done with an almost 18th-century refinement and grace, the rhythms crisp and clean, the big oboe solos at once languid and poised. The more extravagant Second (1923), with its ‘Danza rustica’ and big closing ‘Bergamasco’, underscores its blend of sensuality and energetic pastoral with Impressionistic colours in both scoring and harmony: the evocation of the bells of Paris that forms its effective slow movement is both ravishing and touching here. The final suite (1932), for strings alone, has moments of great austerity in its ‘Arie di corte’ Andante and closes in a mood of bittersweet nostalgia. Some may prefer Neville Marriner’s more buoyant performance with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for EMI, though Raudales’s restraint is both appealing and persuasive throughout.
His approach to Gli uccelli, meanwhile, is altogether more extrovert, and his breezy, almost casual way with the ‘Preludio’ comes as something of a surprise if you’re used to the altogether grander manner of, say, Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (Sony) here. Later on there’s plenty of wit, as well as great tenderness in Respighi’s depictions of the dove and the nightingale, where the scoring becomes lush and there are overtones of the Janiculum section from Pines of Rome. Like the rest of the disc, it’s played with exceptional beauty, and the recording itself is first-rate.