Respighi: Roman Trilogy - Neschling

Respighi: Roman Trilogy - Neschling


Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Ottorino Respighi: Fontane di Roma, Pini di Roma, Feste Romane

Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra
John Neschling (conductor)

Ottorino Respighi's Roman Trilogy (the tone poems Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals) holds a very special place in the orchestral repertory, challenging almost any other composition for sheer sonic audience appeal.

Spectacular scenes such as Fontana di Trevi in the glitter of the mid-day sun, children playing under the pine-trees of the Villa Borghese or gladiators fighting at Circus Maximus provided the masterly orchestrator with the opportunity to employ the full palette of the large-scale symphony orchestra, to which he added various instruments, including organ, piano, celesta, glockenspiel, mandolin and tambourines.

In fact, in the third part of the Pines of Rome Respighi went even further and specified, for the first time ever in classical music, the use of a gramophone, playing a recording of a nightingale singing. As a result, these works glitter, shimmer, blare and thunder: a true feast for the ear which here has found worthy exponents in the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP) and John Neschling.

Previous releases by this team include recordings of music by Villa-Lobos and his Brazilian colleagues Camargo Guarnieri, Francisco Mignone and Claudio Santoro, and individual discs have been described by reviewers as 'the most vibrant, colorful, rhythmically vital and virtuosic performances imaginable' (on website Classics, 'an orgy of colours and rhythms' (in Diapason), and 'an assured blend of lush colours, pulsating rhythms and supple phrasing' (in International Record Review.) Such qualities certainly work in the Old World, too - and nowhere better than in Ottorino Respighi's Rome!

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PCM recording
Reviews (2)

Review by Mark Novak - November 25, 2010

What’s not to like about these melodically appealing works for large orchestra? I believe they represent the apex of orchestral tone painting – they are filled with lovely melodies, interesting orchestral sound effects and plenty of dynamic contrasts. No, they are not “serious” music but who cares? They are simply a delight to listen to.

This recording demonstrates dynamics in spades. The program kicks off with the Fountains of Rome and setting the playback volume based on the quiet opening movement may have you reaching for the volume control once the peroration in the third movement comes along. John Neschling and the Sao Paulo Symphony leave nothing to be desired in this music. The performances are idiomatic throughout and every section of the orchestra plays wonderfully. In addition to the very wide and realistic dynamic range of this recording (engineered by Uli Schneider in OSESP’s home venue), there is a wholeness to the sonic image that conveys a real orchestra in a real space. There is an appropriate blend of direct and hall sound which allows the sound to breathe without obscuring details. As I type, I am listening to the sound of the plaintive solo oboe in the third movement of Pines – what beautiful playing and sound! The inexorable build-up of sound in the Appian Way movement is exhilarating. A real speaker buster! Nothing more be said – get this!

Copyright © 2010 Mark Novak and


Sonics (Stereo):

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Review by John Miller - August 14, 2011

Respighi's trilogy of flamboyant orchestral pieces, based upon his impressions of Rome in its many aspects, make a very satisfying one-disc programme. This work clearly has its origins in Smetana's Má Vlast (My Countryside). Each member of the trilogy (called 'Tone Poems' by Respighi) has four titled sections which are played without a break. Played in chronological order as here, they not only record Respighi's marvellous development of poetic and atmospheric orchestral techniques from 1916-1928 but also provide a pleasing narrative. Feste Romane (Roman Festivals), the last of the trilogy, was also the last of Respighi's pieces for full orchestra; he believed that he had taken orchestration in this particular style to its limits.

Reinforcing the obvious programmatic nature of this set, Respighi provided texts as forewords in each score, outlining his "sentiments and visions". These provide the general environment of the setting, time of day, even the prevailing weather and details such as passing cow herds and type of birdsong. Visions of the Eternal City's mythological and historical past are also evoked, such as naiads, tritons and even the Imperial Roman army. The ingenuity with which this Respighi's pictorialism is depicted in orchestral terms is remarkable; his scoring includes many additional instruments, such as a carillon, tubular bells, celeste, two harps, two pianos,an obbligato organ with 32' pipes and a mandolin. Famously, there is also a part for a singing Nightingale (even with its gramophone record number listed in the score!). BIS have replaced this with a modern digital version, but it is rather distant and fails to make its mark as usually expected - one of the few misjudgements in this recording.

Most unusual in the Trilogy's instrumentarium are six "Buccini" (which is Italian for a Roman horn, a reflexed tube a dozen feet long, not unlike the ancient "lur" from the Danish Bronze Age). The Buccina is only known from brief mentions in Roman texts or possible depictions in carvings. Although Respighi writes parts for three pairs at different pitches, there is no possibility that the real Buccina could play the composer's melody parts; they would have been restricted to a specific harmonic series, being of course valveless. Clearly this is a poetic device of Resphigi's to make conductors and players aware of his attempt to evoke the approach of the Roman Army. In fact, the score suggests pairs of "Flicorno" (Flugelhorns) at soprano and tenor pitches with euphoniums taking the bass part.

These tone poems are demanding works for both orchestra and conductor, not to mention for recording engineers. Indeed, despite the popularity of the music, there are relatively few recorded performances where everything comes together with dazzling success. This disc is one of them. Neschling and the SPSO have achieved a rapport during his period as directorship and principal conductorship from 1997-2009 which has clearly been demonstrated in their recent recordings, and the BIS team have had time to master the fine acoustics of the Sala São Paulo, so they capture the orchestra's sound with stunning concert-like realism and a formidably wide dynamic range.

From the ravishingly soft carpet of sound from muted strings and a timeless high violin harmonic at the opening of The Fountains of Rome to the almost orgiastic celebration of the Epiphany in the Piazza Navona at the end of the Trilogy, Neschling takes us on a gripping musical journey through the history of Rome, as compelling as the best I have heard. Every detail mentioned by Respighi in his programme notes is depicted intelligently and expertly by the orchestra, with marvellous transitions between animation and repose. The secure pacing and sheer tension of Respighi's ground-breaking extended climaxes are rendered with astonishing effect, particularly in the Pines of the Appian Way, where the unstoppable tread of the Roman army brings us the brazen conclusion of threat combined with triumphal grandeur. Here, as in the final climax of Roman Festivals, the extra brass gradually extend from the stage down the sides of the listening space to the rear speakers, a thrilling effect for those blessed with multichannel equipment.

This, therefore, is to my ears a very distinguished and coherent Roman Trilogy. Neschling draws together the individual tone poems in a way which almost makes it impossible to play them separately. In particular he finally lays to rest the dogma that "Roman Festivals" is an inferior work by lighting it up from within with loving character detail, rhythmic élan and orchestral splendour, so that it provides an inevitable conclusion to the Trilogy (a similar refurbishing has been recently presented by Pappano on RBCD).

A must-have for Respighi admirers and those who relish superb orchestral sound. Accompanied by attractive, appropriate artwork and an impeccable set of detailed programme notes by Jean-Pascal Vachon, what more could a collector want?

Copyright © 2011 John Miller and


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