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.

JJP

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa