Friday, March 6, 2009

Respighi: Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals

With today's CD we make a move into the modern era to listen to some of Ottorino Respighi's best known works: Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals.

These three works, the so-called "Roman Trilogy," were all written in the 20th century, but they are all throwback works that sound like they came from the mid-1900s. And this may sound harsh, but all three of them are largely forgettable.
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Guisepe Sinopoli and the New York Philharmonic
Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)
Fontane Di Roma, Pini Di Roma, Feste Romane
Deutsche Grammophon, 1993
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One of the common factoids you'll see when reading about Respighi is that he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov during a visit to Russia in 1900-1901, and learned many secrets of orchestration from him. You can also feel the influence of other symphonic "imagists" like Ravel and Debussy in Respighi's music.

You'll never find Respighi sitting among the true gods of classical music, but these particular works (well, at least Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome) are thought of as admirable and among his better compositions.

Listener Notes for Fountains of Rome:
1) Each movement of this work represents one of Rome's fountains, viewed at a different time of day.

2) In the third movement ("La fontana di Trevi al meriggio") you'll hear some serious low brass parts. I've heard the New York Phil perform plenty of times over the years, but I've never heard the tuba and trombones rip it like they do in this movement. What a pleasure.

3) I'm not sure this work sounds particularly original. It feels like Debussy did this kind of music already, years earlier, and more skillfully too. Finally, does this work sound to you like a film score? I mean that pejoratively.

Listener Notes for Pines of Rome:
1) Notice the bright and cheery trumpet parts at the beginning of the first movement. Parts like this make Pines of Rome a popular staple for high school and college concert bands everywhere.

2) The second movement is as melancholy as the first movement is cheery and treacly. And we get to hear yet another good trumpet part, a solo, which is beautifully played by our New York Philharmonic principal trumpet.

3) Listen for the repeated theme at roughly the 3:40 mark in the second movement. Doesn't this theme sound like it should be the musical backdrop for a band of native Americans in a John Ford movie? Like when the Comanche come over the horizon in The Searchers? I'm probably just being unfairly condescending about music that--let's be honest--sounds suspiciously like a film score.

4) Credit where credit is due in the fourth movement: this recording features a professional clarinetist who plays beautifully--and on key--for an entire solo. Philly Orchestra, please take note.

5) Notice the recording of a bird call used in this performance (begins at 6:20 in the third movement "I pini del Gianicolo"). So I guess white guys invented sampling after all.

Listener Notes for Roman Festivals:
1) I don't mean to be overly harsh, but can't you just tell that this piece is going to be melodramatic with a capital "M" right from the very beginning? Even the liner notes accompanying this CD call Roman Festivals "an unashamedly gaudy showpiece."

2) Can you hear Christian martyrs being attacked by lions in the Roman circus in the first movement? If you can't, go back and listen again.

3) Did you notice the mandolin playing in the third movement (L'Ottobrata)? It happens at the 6:57 mark, just after the violin solo ends. I had to cringe just a little bit, simply because this is all the evidence that you need that Respighi is trying too hard with this composition.

4) Speaking of melodramatic, how about the entire fourth movement of Roman Festivals, and worse still, the nearly two minute-long finale? I considered this work to be the least noteworthy recording on a completely forgettable classical music CD. This is not one of my prized discs.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A bit too harsh, methinks.

These works certainly aren't desert island calibre, but after a few listens, do grow on you and remain enjoyable. Hence, they qualify as part of the canon, if only barely.