Respighi: Roman Trilogy - Wilson

Respighi: Roman Trilogy - Wilson

Chandos  CHSA 5261

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Respighi: Roman Trilogy

Sinfonia of London
John Wilson, conductor

Following the widespread critical acclaim of their first two recordings – including a BBC Music Magazine Award – John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London turn to Respighi’s Roman Trilogy for their third release. Born in Bologna in 1879, Respighi trained as a violinist and composer, and travelled extensively. His influences are therefore wide-ranging, from Richard Strauss and Debussy to Rimsky-Korsakov (who taught him orchestration) in addition to a love of – and fascination with – Plainsong and music of the Italian baroque.

Fountains of Rome was the first of these three great tone poems, composed between 1913 and 1916, and inspired by a series of photographs given to him by the artist Edita Broglio. Intensely programmatic, the work sees Respighi setting out to evoke ‘sentiments and visions suggested… by four of Rome’s fountains contemplated at the hour in which their character is most in harmony with the surrounding landscape, or in which their beauty appears most impressive to the observer’. Pines of Rome was completed in 1924 – a particularly turbulent time in Italy, following Mussolini’s appointment as Prime Minister, in 1922. Like Fountains, the work is explicitly programmatic, set in four sections, and calling for extremely large orchestral forces – including a gramophone recording of a nightingale in the third movement.

Roman Festivals was premiered in 1928 by the New York Philharmonic under Toscanini, who was a great supporter of Respighi and regularly performed his works throughout his career. Again, in four parts, Festivals calls for the largest orchestration of all, including a vast array of percussion as well as organ, four-hand piano and mandolin.

Despite some negative criticism (particularly in the UK) when they were first introduced, these works have found favour with concert goers around the world and been regularly performed ever since – indeed, they have perhaps proven much more highly valued by conductors and audiences than by the critics!

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Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - July 28, 2020

John Wilson’s two recordings on SACD with the Sinfonia of London, the first of music by Korngold Korngold: Symphony - Wilson and the second of French orchestral works Escales: French Orchestral Works - Wilson, have garnered numerous accolades not only for the quality of the performances but also for the superb sound quality that the Chandos engineers accorded him and his hand-picked orchestra. That body, relaunched as a recording orchestra in 2018, comprises of an outstanding group of musicians who meet several times a year for specific projects. The orchestra includes a significant number of principals and leaders from orchestras based both in the UK and abroad alongside notable soloists and members of distinguished chamber groups. The fresh and persuasive playing displayed by these musicians in the first two recordings are now brought to bear on the music of Ottorino Respighi.

For his third recording with this orchestra Wilson has chosen the three symphonic poems that comprise Respighi’s Roman trilogy – The Fountains of Rome (1914-16), the Pines of Rome (1923-24) and Feste Romane (1928). Though these evocative and stunning orchestral show pieces have been recorded countless times and championed by many distinguished conductors of the past, they never fail to make an impression whether in the concert hall or on disc.

Most recordings of the Roman trilogy place the three works in the order of their composition but on this disc Feste Romane, for a reason not apparent to me, is presented first. Its opening movement ‘Circences’ is performed with an astonishing attack and ferocity that will pin you to your seat. This typifies Wilson’s propulsive and consistently dynamic approach to the music throughout these accounts. It is worth mentioning here that the full weight of the organ pedal notes used by Respighi at various points in these scores is appropriately floor trembling on this Chandos disc, something that is often lacking in some rival versions. As a manipulator of musical sonorities Wilson is an absolute master and he captures the various moods of this music and its expressive potential with unerring skill. His tempi, though fleet-footed, are convincingly flexible and ensure that the sensuously luxurious textures of, for example, the outer movements of the Fountains of Rome, are not short-changed.

In all three of these works it is clear that Wilson knows exactly what he wants and his players oblige with commendable enthusiasm. The Sinfonia of London has a lustrous sound that is cohesive and impeccably blended. Its musicians clearly revel in the virtuosity that Respighi requires of them producing wonderfully manicured orchestral timbres that do full justice to the wealth of beguiling orchestral effects present in these scores.

The excellence of Wilson’s Sinfonia of London response to these sonically opulent pieces is matched by that of the recorded sound superbly engineered in 24-bit / 96KHz and 5.0 channel surround by engineer Ralph Couzens. The venue was the Church of St Augustine Kilburn, London (2-7 September 2019). The acoustic of the church provides a wonderful sense of space that remains open, vivid and detailed even in the heaviest orchestral climaxes and there are many of those in these three pieces. Photographs of the recording sessions in the accompanying booklet show the orchestra packed into the nave with the additional brass in the gallery.

Wilson’s only direct competition on multi-channel SACD (which is what this music surely requires) is the excellent BIS version recorded in 2008 from John Neschling and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. Some might prefer Neschling’s less dynamic approach to these scores while others would miss the visceral thrill of Wilson’s galvanic conducting. Respighi aficionados will want both versions in their collections together with the classic 1959 Reiner recording of the Fountains and the Pines, in one of its iterations, that still sounds amazing sixty years on!

These vivid and compelling performances can be enthusiastically recommended.

Copyright © 2020 Graham Williams and


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Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (46)

Comment by john hunter - July 12, 2020 (1 of 46)

Oh dear! Another Roman trilogy .
Much as I loved his other recordings, I will have to think twice about getting this one!

Comment by Dissonance - July 13, 2020 (2 of 46)

Not DXD, only 24/96

Comment by Kveld-Úlfr - July 13, 2020 (3 of 46)

"Much as I loved his other recordings, I will have to think twice about getting this one"
... whose recordings?...

Comment by john hunter - July 13, 2020 (4 of 46)

the conductor of this recording.

Comment by philip edwards - July 14, 2020 (5 of 46)

There is only one Roman Trilogy on SACD in the West, the Neschling on Bis (which is very good admittedly). Reiner on Living Stereo has only Fountains and Pines. Other discs are expensive Japanese imports, so the market is open to a new version, and John Wilson and Chandos are the ones possibly to improve on Neschling. I shall buy it to find out. Anyway I love these works.

Comment by john hunter - July 15, 2020 (6 of 46)

I have both recordings and while it may not be complete,I prefer the Reiner.
Look forward to you comments on this new one.

Comment by hiredfox - July 17, 2020 (7 of 46)

Yes, John. I too had both but disliked Neschling's version. I sold that one some years ago. This new version looks promising

Comment by john hunter - July 28, 2020 (8 of 46)

Oh dear again!!
Down goes my bank balance.

Comment by hiredfox - July 29, 2020 (9 of 46)

The lockdown in the UK is having one beneficial effect, our casual spending when out and about or on the move has dropped to almost nothing, no popping into Starbucks or Costa for a quick coffee and cakes. That's about £5 or more saved several times a week.

A coffee & cake will delight for 20mins, a SACD will delight for the rest of our lives.

Perspective John, perspective!

... and there is even more good news, Presto's prices are so competitive that we are no longer beholden to Jeff Bezos and his hegemony.

Comment by hiredfox - July 31, 2020 (10 of 46)

Rave reviews already emerging

Comment by Jan Arell - July 31, 2020 (11 of 46)

One tiny little question: How are the birds done? That's a detail I dislike with the otherwise very good Neschling/Bis recording; they are up front and buried in the orchestra.

Comment by Aastroem - August 1, 2020 (12 of 46)


Comment by hiredfox - August 3, 2020 (13 of 46)

What an idiot! (ref: link)

Comment by Athenaeus - August 4, 2020 (14 of 46)

Hiredfox, I think you wanted to add a link to your comment. If you did it didn't get properly copied.

Comment by hiredfox - August 5, 2020 (15 of 46)

Sorry about the misunderstanding. The link mentioned was to the article included by Aastroem in his previous comment.

Comment by kodiam - August 25, 2020 (16 of 46)

..different point of view

Comment by john hunter - August 25, 2020 (17 of 46)

And of the records of the year!!
Still awaiting my copy.
P.S.And given the author you can't be surprised.

Comment by hiredfox - August 26, 2020 (18 of 46)

Echoes of Ivan Fischer and the BFO here, the Sinfonia of London comprises players hand-picked by John Wilson himself. It really must help to know who the boss is as the formula seems to work.

This'll be my evening's entertainment later.

Comment by Paul Hannah - August 27, 2020 (19 of 46)

Interesting review on YouTube from the USA Classics Today Com who rated it a big YUK !
Called it drink coaster material
Hope David is wrong as I have ordered this from Presto

Comment by hiredfox - August 27, 2020 (20 of 46)

David Hurwitz has a massive history of being a contrarian, he is rarely correct in his assertions so we will see how others judge it

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