Respighi: Pines of Rome (CD review)

Also, Fountains of Rome, Festivals of Roman. Col. Lowell E. Graham, the U.S. Air Force Band. Klavier K 11182.

This is a disc of contrasts: On the one hand we have very familiar music, Respighi's Pines, Fountains, and Festivals of Rome; on the other hand, we find the music in unique transcriptions for wind band by Lawrence Odom. The result is to hear something old made new again.

The odd thing is that after listening for a few minutes, you don't even notice the strings missing, the music actually lending itself so nicely to a wind band. Moreover, maestro Lowell E. Graham and his U.S. Air Force Band never try to overdramatize the programmatic content of the pieces, so the composer's intentions come across in a fairly straightforward manner.

Italian composer and musician Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) wrote his Roman Trilogy after studying with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, probably where he got the idea of picturesque program material. Although he wrote the Fountains of Rome first (1917), the disc begins with the Pines of Rome (1924), possibly because this piece is the most-popular work Respighi ever composed. The Pines opens with a big splash of color in "The Pines of the Villa Borghese." Then the second movement, "Pines Near a Catacomb," is appropriately somber, even gloomy. The third movement, with its song of the nightingale, is a prelude, really, to the big finale, the "Pines of the Appian Way," which is probably the single most-famous thing Respighi created. We hear the march of ancient Roman soldiers as they return home victorious in battle once again, the music mounting in urgency moment by moment until it reaches a fevered climax. Graham makes the most of it, as do the audio engineers.

The Fountains of Rome are altogether more festive and, for me, more vivid and distinctive than the Pines. Each of the four movements describes a celebrated fountain in the city, the music playing without a break. We hear noises of the country, noises of the city, noises of mystical creatures, and noises of crowds, among many other things, the music finally fading away into silence as night falls.

The Roman Festivals (1929) seem to me the least-successful parts of the trilogy. Respighi appears to have been trying to top himself in the work, and the music becomes rather hectic and bombastic at times. Still, Graham holds it together pretty well, making it more of a single piece than we sometimes hear.

Recorded in 1997 and originally released in 2002, Klavier now makes the Roman Trilogy available on this 2010 disc, taken from the 24-bit digital master. The first thing one notices about the sound is that it can be somewhat bright and forward in places like the opening of the Pines of Rome. I suppose we should expect that from a wind band, yet the bulk of the midrange is fluid and smooth, so if you can make it through the more raucous sections like those opening flurries, the sound is quite good. Although the "Catacombs" might have benefitted from a deeper bass, the disc makes up for it in the "Pines of the Appian Way" and in the big low-end thumps of the Roman Festivals. Like most wind recordings, this one is generally warm and mellow, with some nicely articulated highs.


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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