Whether Festivals, Fountains or Pines, Ottorino Respighi’s Roman Trilogy dazzles through its wide-screen cinematography, subtle impressionism, evocative powers, and fabulous orchestration.
JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic are the latest to enter the distinguished orchestra/conductor ring with this music, literally so in Feste romane (1928) with its gladiatorial opening, brass and percussion pealing out, if not without a sinister backdrop: this is combat to the death. Falletta and her sensitive players are especially alive to the music’s mysterious and nocturnal aspects, although there is no lack of uproar and sledgehammer impact when required. However it’s those starlit moments that most beguile, even with something momentous lurking, and there is plenty of bright-day celebration, too, and when a mandolin strikes up, well, surely, the hardest heart will melt. The best thing to do is throw a wild party and so the final section, ‘Epiphany’, is fairground-rollicking, becoming bacchanalian in the concluding measures.
We need to cool off. Cue four Fountains (1916), as viewed at different times of day, from dawn to dusk ... when in Rome... Respighi magically conjuring landscape, living creatures, and darkness becoming light, climaxing at hot-sun midday with The Trevi Fountain, during which Falletta’s attention to certain details and holding the tempo organically ticks my particular boxes (taking me back to my Fountains introduction, Ernest Ansermet, and he probably knew the composer). Rome has Pines (1924) to offer, too, in music playful, sepulchral, balmy (led by bewitching clarinet, with chirruping nightingale, Respighi’s cited Brunswick recording now digitised) and, finally, historic, Roman legionnaires in glorious Technicolor: all handsomely delivered, captured in Tim Handley’s opulent sound, which needs an increase in volume for best results.
This Roman Holiday release, Falletta's second of Respighi for Naxos, has magnetic pulling power. May we now have the delicious, Rossini-inspired, La Boutique fantasque.