Respighi Orchestral Works

Author: 
Michael Oliver

Respighi Orchestral Works

  • Vetrate di chiesa, 'Church Windows'
  • Impressioni brasiliane, 'Brazilian Impressions'
  • Feste romane, 'Roman Festivals'

The conventional coupling of Pines, Fountains and Festivals makes sense, of course. They are seen as the 'essential' Respighi, and one could easily argue that neither Church Windows nor Brazilian Impressions is quite as successful (and that Festivals is the weakest of the Roman trilogy anyway).
The only answer to that, Lopez-Cobos seems to suggest, is to take the music perfectly seriously and pay scrupulous attention not just to its potential for sonorous spectacle but to its wealth of beautifully crafted detail. Look, he says: if you take real care of the melodic line in the first movement of Church Windows it's really quite easy to avoid the impression that the whole piece is a warm and scented bath of orchestral luxury without much substance to it. It goes without saying that the gong at the end of the second movement is magnificently resonant, as is the organ in the finale (there would be little point in doing the piece if you don't get those things right), but the work is given an extra inch or two of stature by sensitive handling of those moments that need but don't always get delicacy.
Pay sufficient care to character and detail in ''Butantan'', that creepy depiction of a snake-farm in Brazilian Impressions, and you can not only recapture the real, crawling horror that Respighi experienced there, but discover in the music also a queer sort of Debussian grace as well. And as for Roman Festivals, well, what's wrong with 20-odd minutes of wide-screen spectacular once in a while? But if every colour is precisely rendered, the quiet passages as affectionately turned as they are here (and it's surprising how much of this score is quiet), what skill there is to be found in it, what a gift for immaculately precise instrumental detail.
With that sort of handling all three pieces sound quite worthy of sharing shelf space with Pines and Fountains. The recording is spectacular without being 'spectacular', if you know what I mean, and the orchestral playing is in the luxury class.'

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