Respighi: The Birds - Neschling
BIS BIS 2540
Classical - Orchestral
Respighi: The Birds, Ancient Dances and Airs
Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège
John Neschling (conductor)
With the present album, the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège and John Neschling bring us the sixth and last instalment in a series that has been called ‘the finest-ever survey of the composer’s orchestral output undertaken by a single conductor’ (BBC Music Magazine).
The immense popularity of the Roman Trilogy has had the effect of obscuring many parts of Respighi’s oeuvre, including arrangements of pieces from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. These arrangements, a genuine declaration of love for this music, were less an attempt at musicological reconstruction than ‘free transcriptions for orchestra’ as the composer described them.
The four suites on this album, Gli Uccelli (The Birds) and the three entitled Ancient Dances and Airs, bear witness to this art. Gli Uccelli consists of five pieces originally written for harpsichord or lute which, as the title suggests, evoke birds set in colourful soundscapes. The Ancient Dances and Airs are suites each made of four pieces for lute or guitar from the Italian and French repertoire of the late 16th and early 17th centuries adorned with new orchestral colours. The success of these suites owes much to their orchestration: subtle and sober with timbres of rare sophistication. A refined treat from the Italian master of orchestration.
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Review by Graham Williams - March 28, 2023
For admirers of Respighi’s orchestral music this is clearly a self-recommending release.
John Neschling’s seven disc survey of Respighi’s orchestral works for BIS has been a revelation since it began in 2008. The first release featured the composer’s Roman Trilogy in spectacular surround sound. The orchestra on that recording was the São Paulo Symphony. For the subsequent six releases, including this one, the excellent Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège has been Neschling’s orchestra of choice and their commitment and virtuosity has done the composer proud. In addition, the superb acoustic of the Salle Philharmonique in Liège and the care Neschling has lavished on these works has ensured that Respighi’s iridescent orchestration has been captured magnificently by the BIS engineering team.
Respighi’s deep interest in music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods was the inspiration for the three suites of ‘Ancient Airs and Dances’ that he composed between 1917 and 1932. Most of the music is taken from a collection of old lute music and was transcribed and orchestrated by Respighi in his glittering and sumptuous style. The first two Suites are scored for a small orchestra while the third Suite is for strings alone. The success with the public of these exquisite Suites led to Respighi writing another work in 1927 entitled ‘Gli Uccelli’ (The Birds), this time using lute and harpsichord music by such composers as Rameau and Pasquini, that has become one of his most popular compositions.
Though there are many versions of these pieces available on disc there are only two with this particular coupling on SACD. This new BIS is one and the other is on the CPO label that I reviewed in 2016 Respighi: Ancient Airs and Dances - Raudales
As one might expect Neschling has the full measure of these four contrasting Suites. Tempi are generally well chosen and the playing of the orchestra throughout is first rate. He adopts rather sedate speeds for the ‘Arie di Corte’ (Suite 3) and also for the ‘Campanae Parisienses (Suite 2), but they are as valid and persuasive as those adopted by the more capricious Raudales on the CPO disc. The choice is yours.
The BIS engineering is excellent, with every detail of Respighi’s piquant orchestration clearly etched within a warm and enveloping acoustic. One’s only regret is that this is the final volume of Neschling’s consistently excellent survey of the composer’s orchestral music (It is a shame that the ballet ‘La Pentola Magica’ was not included), but Respighi aficionados will be grateful to both BIS and Neschling for what they have given us.
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