Respighi’s Roman Trilogy – Fountains of Rome … Pines of Rome … Roman Festivals – Antonio Pappano

0 of 5 stars

Fontane di Roma
Pini di Roma
Il tramonto
Feste Romane

Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano) [Il tramonto]

Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome
Antonio Pappano

Recorded at concerts and sessions in January 2007 in Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome

Reviewed by: David Gutman

Reviewed: December 2007
CD No: EMI 3 99429 2
Duration: 81 minutes



Antonio Pappano’s latest recording comes of course at full price but few will feel short-changed when this Respighi anthology includes more music than any rivals. Sourced in part from concerts, the not quite state-of-the-art recorded sound is appreciably more lifelike than the classic alternative Pines and Fountains from Toscanini, Reiner and Muti.

The less than deep-pile acoustic rather suits the orchestra’s relatively contained sonority and lean-toned strings. As in his Tchaikovsky symphony sessions, Pappano demonstrates a knack of making these limitations seem like assets. Self-consciously anti-melodramatic, at least at high decibels where the band risks sounding a little frayed, Pappano’s rubato in less demonstrative passages is highly personalized and he secures an impressive unanimity of response. With much fine detail exhumed throughout, the music-making is sophisticated, deft and exuberant by turns.

Which is not to say that I would automatically prefer this collection to the orchestra’s previous account of the ‘Roman Trilogy’ under Daniele Gatti for RCA. Pappano favors greater contrasts in pacing and dynamic levels – often within individual sections – so that one comes away less struck by the emotional logic of Respighi’s invention than admiring of the carefully drilled dazzle of certain exquisite surfaces. Does it matter if this is Respighi-lite? Among the more controversial points will be the slow tempo preferred by Pappano in the opening ‘Fountain of Valle Giulia at Dawn’, the characteristic cry of encouragement he gives his players 23 seconds into the ‘Pines of the Villa Borghese’ and the frenetic pacing thereafter. And, perhaps, his backward placing of the nightingale in ‘Pines of the Janiculum’.

“Il tramonto” (The Sunset), a comparatively intimate Shelley setting of 1918 (it becomes more so in the alternative version for voice and string quartet), makes a generous if surprising bonus. Christine Rice sings it most beautifully with velvet tone, even if the piece does not come across as quite the neglected masterpiece it seemed when Lorraine Hunt (as she then was) sang it on tour with the edgier forces of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. There is supposed to be a recording of their collaboration on Sony (Australia). In the meantime this one will do very nicely. EMI’s non-chronological placing means that it forms a kind of buffer zone before we proceed to the critically excoriated Feste Romane. Any ‘vulgarity’ there is minimized by Pappano’s characteristic freshness of touch.

How to sum up? While some listeners may miss the cushioned strings of the big American orchestras which have made this repertoire so much their own, the first two works at least were premièred by the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and the act of repatriation must be counted a very considerable success. The maestro, London-born son of Italian parents, contributes fewer noises off than has sometimes been the case and the booklet includes multi-lingual texts and translations for “Il tramonto”. Recommended.

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