Respighi: Church Windows (CD review)

Also, Brazilian Impressions; Rossiniana. JoAnn Falletta, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Naxos 8.557711.

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) might have been just another ordinary composer if he hadn't discovered his talent for (and the public's appreciation for) suites of short, highly descriptive tone paintings. He made his mark in 1916 with The Fountains of Rome, which he described as a "Symphonic Poem." From then on, it was The Pines of Rome, Three Botticelli Pictures, The Birds, The Festivals of Rome, and so on. The present disc contains two more such suites, Church Windows and Brazilian Impressions, plus a tribute to Rossini called Rossiniana.

The four-part Church Windows, which began life as a series of piano pieces, premiered in orchestral form in 1927, and like others of Respighi's works, it is big and slightly medieval sounding, inspired by his own religious convictions and by scenes from stained-glass windows. JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic play them more gently than I've heard them before, yet the musicians well capture the fervent spirit of the music, both in its grandeur and repose.

The three Brazilian Impressions that follow are less descriptive than Church Windows and more like hints and suggestions of the composer's trip to Brazil in 1927. The music is actually more subtle and atmospheric than you might expect.

Finally, Respighi always liked Rossini's music, as his ballet La boutique fantasque had shown in 1919. So he turned again to the inspiration of Rossini in 1925 with what he called piano "trifles," later orchestrated as a suite of four numbers. They possess a warm Italian glow, which, again, Falletta and the Buffalo players amply capture. This is not great music, but it is charming and entertaining.

The sound Naxos engineers provide for the music is first-rate as well. Indeed, it is among the best recordings I've heard from Naxos in quite a while. And given the number of recordings the Naxos people produce every month, that's saying something. The sonics are ultrasmooth, yet reasonably well detailed, too, with a generous stereo spread and a warm, ambient acoustic. Let's say the sound matches the music.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa